A congressional committee is recommending the Justice Department pursue four criminal charges against Donald Trump over his bid to overturn the 2020 election result, pushing prosecutors to take legal action against the former U.S. president as he seeks to reclaim the White House.
This unprecedented move Monday capped a dramatic, nearly two-year legislative investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol.
The panel accused Mr. Trump of obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to make a false statement and inciting an insurrection, the first time a legislative committee has ever asked that a president be indicted. Its full report is set to be released Wednesday.
“Faith in our system is the foundation of American democracy. If that faith is broken, so is our democracy. Donald Trump broke that faith,” committee chair Bennie Thompson told the meeting ahead of a unanimous vote to make the criminal referrals.
Lawmakers also called for a congressional ethics investigation into four Republican legislators who ignored the committee’s subpoenas and further requested that prosecutors criminally charge anyone who helped Mr. Trump with his election-denying plans, specifically naming lawyer John Eastman.
In a final bombshell, the committee revealed that entities connected to Mr. Trump paid for witnesses’ lawyers, offered one witness a high-paying job in exchange for not helping the committee and advised another witness to obfuscate during testimony.
The committee had to finish its work before Jan. 3, when Republicans take control of the House of Representatives after last month’s midterm elections. It comprises seven Democrats and two Republicans as Mr. Trump’s party mostly refused to participate.
Congress does not have the power to lay charges itself. The criminal referrals, however, could help the Justice Department investigation by suggesting avenues for inquiry and legal reasoning for a potential indictment. They also put public pressure on the department to make a decision on Mr. Trump’s case.
Mr. Trump, who continues to falsely claim that his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden was tainted by fraud, last month launched a 2024 comeback bid, adding fresh urgency to the investigation. No former president has ever been criminally charged, but legal scholars generally agree such an action would be constitutional. An indictment would set the stage for a protracted court battle.
“No man who would behave that way at that moment in time can ever serve in any position of authority in our nation again. He is unfit for any office,” Liz Cheney, the committee’s vice-chair, argued Monday.
Attorney-General Merrick Garland last month appointed veteran prosecutor Jack Smith as special counsel to investigate Mr. Trump, in a bid to keep the probe at arm’s length from Mr. Biden’s cabinet. In addition to Jan. 6, Mr. Smith is also investigating Mr. Trump’s decision to take hundreds of classified documents from the White House when he left office.
In March of this year, a judge found Mr. Trump and Mr. Eastman “likely” broke the law in trying to stop Congress from certifying the election results. The conclusion came as part of a ruling that Mr. Eastman had to turn over documents to the committee. Mr. Eastman formulated several legal theories on how Mr. Trump and other officials could disregard the election results and avoid turning over power to Mr. Biden.
On his Truth Social platform ahead of the committee meeting, Mr. Trump repeated various baseless conspiracy theories, including that U.S. law enforcement was colluding with his political opponents. “The Crooked FBI, the so-called Department of ‘Justice,’ and ‘Intelligence,’ all part so the Democrat Party and System, is the Cancer,” he wrote.
The committee on Monday recapped hundreds of hours of dramatic testimony it presented in recent months. Its investigation found Mr. Trump and his allies put pressure on state officials, the Justice Department and then-vice president Mike Pence to help overturn the election. It also revealed an attempt to replace some Biden-supporting members of the electoral college with fake electors who would vote for Mr. Trump.
When these plans failed, Mr. Trump summoned his supporters to Washington, then exhorted them to march on the Capitol as legislators met to certify Mr. Biden’s victory. During the ensuing riot, insurrectionists beat up police officers, trashed the building and hunted down lawmakers. Mr. Trump, who watched the carnage unfold on television, did nothing to stop it for three hours before releasing a video in which he praised the insurrectionists and asked them to go home.
The committee also heard new testimony Monday from Hope Hicks, one of Mr. Trump’s longest-serving former aides, who said she tried to convince her boss that there was no evidence Mr. Biden had cheated. “I was becoming increasingly concerned that we were damaging his legacy,” by promulgating conspiracy theories, Ms. Hicks said in a videoed interview. “He said something along the lines of ‘nobody will care about my legacy if I lose.’ ”
The panel referred House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, the leading contender for speaker in the next Congress, along with representatives Scott Perry, Jim Jordan and Andy Biggs, to the chamber’s ethics committee. They were in touch with Mr. Trump before or during the Capitol riot, but all refused to comply with the committee’s subpoenas.
Representative Zoe Lofgren also outlined alleged attempts by Mr. Trump’s circle to meddle with committee witnesses. She said money from donors to Mr. Trump’s election campaign was used to hire lawyers to advise witnesses to obstruct the committee.
In one case, she said, an unnamed witness “was offered potential employment that would make her ‘financially very comfortable,’ ” by people linked to Mr. Trump. “The witness believed this was an effort to affect her testimony and we are concerned that these efforts may have been a strategy to prevent the committee from finding the truth,” Ms. Lofgren said.
The Globe and Mail, December 19, 2022