House Jan. 6 Committee to issue criminal referrals, chairman says

By Luke Broadwater, New York Times, Dec. 6, 2022.

Representative Bennie Thompson, the panel’s chairman, said no decision had been made on who would be the subject of the referrals or what the charges would be.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol will issue criminal referrals to the Justice Department based on its inquiry, the panel’s chairman said on Tuesday, but has made no decision on who it will recommend charging or what offenses it will cite.

Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the Democratic chairman of the committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill that the panel had agreed to take the step and would meet later Tuesday to discuss the specifics. But within moments, he and his staff rushed to clarify his statement, reflecting a debate that is still underway within the panel about whether to call for charges against former President Donald J. Trump and some of his top allies.

“What we’ve decided is that we will probably make referrals,” Mr. Thompson told reporters a short time later.

Mr. Thompson, who is known for giving big-picture guidance about the investigation but being at times less involved in the granular details of its work, then suggested that that decision was no longer in question.

“There’s a general agreement we will do some referrals, but we’ve got to get there,” he said. “We’re not there yet.”

A subcommittee of four lawyers on the committee — Representatives Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming; Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland; Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California; and Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California — has studied whether to issue criminal referrals to the Justice Department for Mr. Trump or others.

Among the potential charges they have considered are conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress.

A criminal referral carries no legal weight but would be a symbolic act by the panel putting forth an official finding that it believes a crime or crimes were committed, even though Congress has no power to charge or prosecute them.

Even so, Mr. Thompson’s comments were premature, several people familiar with the committee’s work said.

“We will make an announcement when we have an announcement,” Ms. Lofgren told reporters.

In a statement released after Mr. Thompson’s initial remarks, a spokesman for the committee said: “The committee has determined that referrals to outside entities should be considered as a final part of its work. The committee will make decisions about specifics in the days ahead.”

Emily Cochrane and Stephanie Lai contributed reporting.

 Luke Broadwater covers Congress. He was the lead reporter on a series of investigative articles at The Baltimore Sun that won a Pulitzer Prize and a George Polk Award in 2020. @lukebroadwater

 Image Credits: Cheriss May for The New York Times