January 6 Committee Divided on Sending Criminal Referral of Trump to DOJ: Report

  • The House January 6 panel is split on whether to issue a referral of Trump, per the NYT.
  • The criminal referral, which would require a full House vote, would be sent to the Justice Department. 
  • There’s an ongoing debate on whether a referral would tarnish the DOJ’s growing investigation.

The leaders of the House committee probing the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021, are split on whether to issue a criminal referral to the Justice Department of former President Donald Trump, according to The New York Times.

A criminal referral has no concrete legal effect but would allow Congress to notify the Justice Department of the possibility of criminal conduct.

However, there is a debate on whether a referral would tarnish the Justice Department’s growing investigation into the origins of the January 6 riot.

The House committee previously found former top Trump aides Steve Bannon and Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about the Capitol attack and referred the matter to the DOJ. 

Since last year, a group of ex-federal prosecutors working for the January 6 panel have been chronicling the insurrection and the effort by Trump and his loyalists to overturn the former president’s 2020 election loss to now-President Joe Biden.

The January 6 panel is set to release a report on what it has uncovered over the past year, but the committee has recently said it was mulling a criminal referral that would press Attorney General Merrick Garland to initiate a criminal investigation into Trump, according to The Times.

The leaders of the committee felt that they had enough evidence for a referral, per The Times.

But several Democrats are hesitant to issue a referral as Trump continues to tease a 2024 presidential bid.

The panel’s shift in their thinking regarding a criminal referral came after a federal judge said in a March ruling that Trump “likely” obstructed Congress when he sought to halt the certification of the Electoral College results on January 6.

Trump January 6 Commission

Former President Donald Trump.


The ruling prodded some panel members and staffers to say that there was enough of a paper trail “to justify calling for a prosecution for obstructing a congressional proceeding and conspiring to defraud the American people,” according to The Times.

However, the actual ruling would have much more of an impact on Garland than a referral, according to individuals with knowledge of the situation who spoke with The Times. The members and staffers who are cautious about issuing a criminal referral point to the potential impression that Garland was looking to probe Trump due to pressure from Democrats in Congress.

If the final report omits a referral letter to Garland, the revelations “would still provide federal prosecutors with the evidence the committee uncovered — including some that has not yet become public,” according to The Times.

Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, a member of the January 6 committee, doesn’t feel that a criminal referral is necessary.

“Maybe we will, maybe we won’t,” she told the newspaper of a referral. “It doesn’t have a legal impact.”

The panel is aiming to conduct public hearings next month and in June, with a final report set to be released in September.

“We have completed a substantial amount of work,” Lofgren told The Times. “We’re going to accomplish — we hope — what we set out to do, which is to tell the entire story of what happened, the events of the 6th and the events that led up to the day.”

Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia, another member of the committee, feels that the committee should issue a referral for any potential crimes.

“I would say that I don’t agree with what some of my colleagues have said about this,” she said on MSNBC earlier this month. “I think it’s a lot more important to do what’s right than it is to worry about the political ramifications.”

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