Donald Trump committed multiple crimes when he attempted to overthrow the government on Jan. 6, 2021, and for that, he must be charged by the Justice Department. That was the recommendation that came from the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup when it wrapped up its probe on Monday.
“I think the president has violated multiple criminal laws, and I think you have to be treated like any other American who breaks the law, and that is you have to be prosecuted,” committee member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told CNN on Sunday.
The committee held its final session Monday, and its seven Democrats and two Republicans declared Trump is criminally liable for the violent attack on the Capitol and the conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election.
The prosecution recommendation comes just under the wire before the new Republican majority takes charge of the House in January. Eager to shield both Trump and themselves from further exposure, they will kill off the coup probe and initiate sham investigations of the Biden administration in an effort to distract public attention.
The Jan. 6 committee collected over one million different documents, conducted more than 1,000 interviews, and held 10 historic public hearings since July 2021. Upon reviewing the evidence, the members concluded beyond doubt that Trump was directly responsible for the anti-democratic insurrection that consumed the final days of his presidency.
When news of the committee’s decision leaked this weekend, the former White House occupant took to his struggling social media app Truth Social to denounce the Congressional probe. Calling it an “Unselect Committee of Democrats, Misfits, and Thugs,” he declared the body to be illegitimate, saying it had no “Republicans in good standing” on its roster.
Trump tried to re-write history, again, by characterizing his incendiary speech and the actions of his supporters who invaded the Capitol on Jan. 6 as “PEACEFULLLY AND PATRIOTICLY [sic]” and “mild and loving.” He alleged the Justice Department had no standing to charge him, as it is, according to him, “highly partisan, political, and corrupt.”
He also again repeated his Big Lie that the 2020 vote was stolen from him and inferred that the coup should have been more violent than it was, questioning why “the troops” weren’t sent in to stop election fraud.
The official charges recommended against Trump include insurrection, obstruction of an official proceeding, and conspiracy to defraud the United States government.
Trump’s speech on Jan. 6 is seen as constituting the incitement to insurrection. The effort to halt congressional certification of Electoral College votes makes up the obstruction accusation. And the dissemination of lies about election fraud—the Big Lie—and the pressure put on state and federal officials to assist in throwing out votes constitute the substance of the conspiracy to defraud charge.
The House committee’s criminal referral is mostly symbolic, but the members hope their input will influence the decision-making of Attorney General Merrick Garland, whose DOJ is already in the midst of its own criminal probe of Trump’s Jan. 6 actions.
Watchdog legal group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) determined the recommended charges, in general, appear sensible and meet a high bar when it comes to the strength of the supporting evidence. CREW president Noah Bookbinder said: “Obstruction of an official proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. are charges for which the evidence against Donald Trump in connection with efforts to overturn the 2020 election [is] exceedingly strong.”
Bookbinder said that while insurrection is a harder charge to prove criminally, “it is what happened and the committee did a remarkable job showing the connection between Trump’s actions and the mob’s violence.”
Schiff said Sunday that “if you look at Donald Trump’s acts and you match them up against the statute, it’s a pretty good match.”
CREW’s Bookbinder agreed, concluding, “I think it is the right call to include it in a referral.”
Several Trump associates and members of the White House staff are also expected to be on the receiving end of prosecutorial referrals.
Media reports suggest the list of names could include former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Further, recommendations of disbarment for the Trump lawyers who abetted his vote suppression tactics will be forwarded to bar associations.
Ethics investigation requests will also likely be sent to the House Ethics Committee for Republican representatives who tried to assist the coup from inside Congress—including GOP leader and possible next Speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy.
With the GOP chairing all House committees come Jan. 3, however, the latter recommendations are sure to go nowhere.
When it met Monday, the committee gave a preview of its massive final report, which will include a trove of documentary evidence, interview transcripts, and more. The executive summary alone runs to more than a hundred pages.
Pro-democracy activists, progressive lawmakers and policy institutes, and historians will dissect the report in detail, searching not only for details of the crimes of Trump and his MAGA associates, but for insights into how to protect the U.S.’ fragile constitutional democracy going forward.
The entire eight-chapter report is scheduled for a Wednesday release, and all deposition transcripts will be published online before Dec. 31. Chapter topics reportedly include Trump’s fake-elector scheme, the illegal effort to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to subvert Electoral College certification, and the president’s inaction for the 187 minutes when his extremist supporters were attacking the Capitol.
To ensure the incoming Republican Congressional leadership cannot suppress this evidence or hide it from the American people, the entire report will be uploaded online by the Government Publishing Office.
“We obviously want to complete the story for the American people,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., another committee member, said on the weekend. “Everybody has come on a journey with us, and we want a satisfactory conclusion, such that people feel that Congress has done its job.”
It will now be up to Garland and his special counsel, Jack Smith, to add the committee’s report to their own pile of evidence as they investigate Trump.
The people’s movements to save democracy, which overcame GOP voter suppression tactics and blocked further Republican gains in the midterms this year, will now have to mobilize to push for the DOJ to carry on the work of the House committee.
Without the full prosecution and conviction of Trump and his co-conspirators, a version of the Jan. 6, 2021, coup could be attempted again. And when combined with the variety of election theft and voter suppression measures that GOP majorities are pushing through state legislatures nationwide, it may very well meet with success next time.
C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People’s World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People’s World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.