Jan. 6 committee to recommend DOJ pursue criminal charges, but hasn't yet decided on names

WASHINGTON – The House committee investigating the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, has decided to recommend the Justice Department pursue criminal charges, but has not yet identified who should be targeted, the chairman told reporters Tuesday.

The panel has already made four criminal referrals against four people accused of contempt of Congress for defying committee subpoenas, and the department charged two of them. But additional committee recommendations could reach as high as former President Donald Trump and cover crimes beyond the riot such as perjury or witness tampering.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told reporters the committee has not narrowed down the universe of individuals who may be referred, according to CNN.

“At this point, there’ll be a separate document coming from me to DOJ,” Thompson said, according to The Associated Press.

House Jan. 6 committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., listens during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Tuesday.
House Jan. 6 committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., listens during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on Tuesday.

The committee's recommendations, which will be included in its final report expected by Christmas, are nonbinding but would reflect a legislative perspective for executive branch investigators to consider.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the announcement.

Norm Eisen, a lawyer who served as counsel to the Democratic House committee leading Trump’s first impeachment, said he expected the recommendations to focus on two allegations: the attempt to defraud the United States through overturning the 2020 election and obstruction of an official congressional proceeding.

Despite the Justice Department already investigating aggressively, Eisen said the recommendations would still be important to explain the evidence and allegations.

“No. 1, they stiffen the spine of state and federal prosecutors by encouraging them to act,” Eisen said. “No. 2, they provide important information, the roadmap, the evidence. That’s the most critical part.”

He and Debra Perlin, policy director for the advocacy group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said referrals could target Trump, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, Trump personal lawyer John Eastman and former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark.

According to committee testimony, Meadows assisted Trump in trying to overturn the election, Eastman developed the strategy to have Vice President Mike Pence reject electors from competitive states and Clark was a candidate for attorney general who developed strategies to challenge election results.

A subcommittee of lawyers on the House panel – Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.; Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.; Jamie Raskin, D-Md.; and Adam Schiff, D-Calif. – has studied potential criminal recommendations. Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, led Trump’s first impeachment for dealings with Ukraine. Raskin led the second impeachment dealing with the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.

“These are serious minds and serious legal thinkers who believe that the threshold has been met to make criminal referrals, who believe that prosecution is required,” Perlin said.

Thompson's announcement came the same day Congress was honoring Capitol Police for defending the Capitol as a mob of Trump supporters disrupted the counting of Electoral College votes.

More: Jan. 6 report details emerge as panel enters final phase. What we know about next steps.

The Justice Department has already charged more than 800 people in the riot. Two members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia, were convicted last month of seditious conspiracy.

But the department continues to investigate the role of organizers and financers of the protest. Garland appointed a special counsel to weigh potential charges against people including Trump for Jan. 6 and for the documents seized at his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago.

Trump held a rally near the White House on the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, promoting baseless charges of election fraud and then urged supporters to march to the Capitol to fight the election results. Trump has denied wrongdoing.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: January 6 committee to recommend DOJ investigate criminal charges