A congressional panel investigating the events leading up to and surrounding a violent attempt to reject the results of the 2020 presidential election reportedly has enough evidence to refer Donald Trump to the US Department of Justice for criminal charges.
The New York Times reports that the committee currently is split on whether to make the referral, which would leave the decision to federal prosecutors, though the newspaper reports that members on the House select committee fear the appearance of political manoeuvring that could taint the Justice Department’s own probe into the assault on 6 January, 2021.
The committee reportedly has enough information to refer the former president to federal prosecutors for obstructing a congressional proceeding and conspiring to defraud the American people, according to the newspaper.
US Rep Liz Cheney, the committee’s vice chair, told CNN on 10 April that the committee has not made any decisions about criminal referrals.
“I think it is absolutely the case, it is absolutely clear that what President Trump was doing, what a number of people around him were doing, they knew it was unlawful, they did it anyway,” she said.
She said there is “not really a dispute” among committee members, who are “working in a really collaborative way to discuss these issues, as we are with all of the issues we’re addressing, and we’ll continue to work together to do so.’
“So I wouldn’t characterize there as being a dispute on the committee,” she told the network.
Ms Cheney referenced a recent US District Court ruling issued by Judge David Carter, who presided over a civil case in which the committee sought more than 100 emails from John Eastman, an attorney to Mr Trump who advised the former president on efforts to upend the Electoral College process. Judge Carter said it was “more likely than not” that the men committed federal crimes.
“I think what we have seen is a massive and well-organized and well-planned effort that used multiple tools to try and overturn an election,” Ms Cheney said on Sunday.
According to The New York Times, committee members and staff believed the ruling from Judge Carter – among several signals from the judiciary that the former administration had committed criminal acts – would carry more weight along with efforts from federal prosecutors and the Justice Department, with Attorney General Merrick Garland, than a largely symbolic referral letter that would emerge from the committee.
Some committee members already have publicly supported issuing potential criminal referrals, pending the completion of the committee’s reporting and evidence, collected from a broad range of figures within the Trump administration, his allies and other far-right figures.
“I would say that I don’t agree with what some of my colleagues have said about this,” US Rep Elaine Luria said on MSNBC this month. “I think it’s a lot more important to do what’s right than it is to worry about the political ramifications. This committee, our purpose is legislative and oversight, but if in the course of our investigation we find that criminal activity has occurred, I think it’s our responsibility to refer that to the Department of Justice.”
A grand jury impaneled by federal prosecutors is reviewing how rallies that amplified a baseless narrative that the 2020 election was stolen from the former president were funded and organised before erupting into an assault on the halls of Congress in an attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election.
Federal prosecutors also are investigating hundreds of cases connected to the attack.
Ms Cheney said a recent plea agreement from a member of the nationalist Proud Boys gang “lays out in chilling detail the extent to which violence was planned” on 6 January, sparked in part by Mr Trump’s call on social media to “be there” and “be wild”.
“They understood, they knew they were going to use violence to try to stop the transfer of power,” she said. “That’s the definition of an insurrection. It’s absolutely chilling.”