Jan. 6 committee will issue criminal referrals, chairman says as DOJ probe heats up

Click to play video: 'Special counsel to oversee DOJ investigations into former president Trump: Garland'
Special counsel to oversee DOJ investigations into former president Trump: Garland
WATCH: Special counsel to oversee DOJ investigations into former president Trump, Garland says – Nov 18, 2022

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol will be making criminal referrals to the Justice Department as its probe comes to an end, the panel’s chairman said Tuesday.

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson told reporters the committee has decided to issue the referrals for criminal prosecution based on the findings of its investigation, which will be detailed in a final report he said will be published by the end of the year.

He did not say who the targets of the referrals would be, or if former president Donald Trump — who has been accused of inciting the riot that day and leading efforts to overturn his election loss — would be among them.

“At this point, there’ll be a separate document coming from me to DOJ,” Thompson told reporters at the Capitol, according to the Associated Press and other outlets.

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Read more: Jan. 6 hearings — Here’s what we’ve learned about the U.S. Capitol attack so far

Thompson said the committee would be meeting later Tuesday to discuss the details.

“The Committee has determined that referrals to outside entities should be considered as a final part of its work,” a spokesperson for the select committee told The Associated Press. “The committee will make decisions about specifics in the days ahead.”

The decision to issue referrals is not unexpected. Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, the vice-chair of the committee, has for months been hinting at sending the Justice Department criminal referrals based on the extensive evidence the nine-member panel has gathered since it was formed in July 2021.

Thompson’s comments mark the first confirmation that the committee is moving forward with the decision.

Click to play video: 'Trump facing long 2024 U.S. presidential campaign'
Trump facing long 2024 U.S. presidential campaign

Over a series of public hearings this year, the committee has heard comprehensive testimony about Trump and his top allies, which asserts they not only knew they were pushing false statements about election fraud, but also inspired and exploited their supporters’ anger in an attempt to disrupt the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory.

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At its final hearing in September, members voted unanimously to subpoena Trump to testify and produce documents, setting a mid-November deadline. Trump instead sued the committee in order to avoid testifying.

While Congress can send criminal referrals to the Justice Department, it is ultimately up to federal prosecutors whether to pursue charges.

In the past year, the committee has referred several members of Trump’s inner circle to the agency for refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas. So far only one contempt of Congress charge, against former Trump advisor Steve Bannon, has turned into an indictment.

But the DOJ’s own probe into the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 attack is also showing signs of escalating.

Read more: U.S. attorney general names special counsel to lead Trump investigations

Tuesday also saw special counsel Jack Smith issue his first known subpoenas since being appointed last month by Attorney General Merrick Garland to oversee the department’s investigation into cases involving Trump.

The subpoenas, reported by the Washington Post and The Associated Press, were sent to officials in Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and Pennsylvania, asking for communications with or involving Trump, his campaign aides and a list of allies involved in his efforts to try to overturn the 2020 election results.

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All four states were the subject of attempts by Trump and his allies to challenge and overturn the results. Allied lawmakers in those states organized slates of “alternate” electors that they hoped would be accepted by Congress, which would have thrown out legitimate electors for Biden.

The subpoenas indicate Smith’s work will include an examination of the fake electors that were part of Trump’s efforts to subvert the election count and certification.

Spokespeople for the various counties targeted by the subpoenas told The Associated Press they had received the documents and will comply.

Click to play video: 'Donald Trump subpoenaed by Jan. 6 panel, must testify by mid-November'
Donald Trump subpoenaed by Jan. 6 panel, must testify by mid-November

Smith was appointed after Trump announced his bid to return to the White House last month, which Garland said would preserve the Justice Department’s independence and impartiality as it investigates a presidential candidate.

The special counsel will also oversee the department’s investigation into Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort, as well as alleged attempts to obstruct that probe.

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Trump has been engulfed in mounting legal crises since he left office. In addition to the DOJ, Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis has also been investigating whether Trump and his allies illegally tried to interfere in the 2020 election in Georgia.

On Tuesday, Trump’s real estate company was found guilty by a New York jury of being complicit in a tax fraud scheme that benefited top executives. The company faces up to $1.6 million in fines, which will be decided by the judge in the case at a sentencing hearing set for Jan. 13, 2023.

— with files from The Associated Press

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