WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump should face criminal charges for his actions in connection with last year’s Capitol riot, according to the House select committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021.
The bipartisan panel recommended the Justice Department charge the 76-year-old Trump with insurrection, obstruction of an official proceeding, making false statements to investigators, and conspiracy to defraud the US government, after discovering the former president pushed claims he knew were false about the 2020 presidential election.
“[Trump] lost the 2020 election and knew it, but he chose to try to stay in office through a multi-part scheme to overturn the results and block the transfer of power,” said committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D.-Miss.) in his opening statement. “In the end, he summoned a mob to Washington and, knowing they were armed and angry, pointed them to the capital and told them to ‘fight like hell.’”
The vote was conducted 15 days before the new Republican majority takes over in the House, at which time it is expected to dissolve the select committee at the first opportunity.
While the vote is largely symbolic, the investigation and recommendation of charges can be used by the Justice Department to pursue a case against Trump, who is so far the only person to announce his candidacy in the 2024 presidential election.
“We have every confidence that the work of this committee will help provide a roadmap to justice, and that the agencies and institutions responsible for ensuring justice under the law will use the information we provided to aid in their work,” Thompson said.
Last month, US Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed veteran prosecutor Jack Smith to lead the ongoing investigation into Trump’s efforts to remain in power after his defeat in 2020. Garland himself will make the ultimate decision on whether to prosecute Trump.
If charged and convicted, Trump could face up to 35 years in prison and more than $500,000 in fines.
An insurrection conviction would render the former president ineligible to hold public office again, which the committee’s vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), would surely support.
On Monday, she said Trump is “unfit for any office” after he watched the riot on television for hours without intervening or making a statement to call off the rioters despite “urgent pleas from his White House staff and dozens of others to do so.”
“During this time, law enforcement agents were attacked and seriously injured. The Capitol was invaded, the electoral count was halted and the lives of those in the Capitol were put at risk,” she said.
Cheney said the 187 minutes that Trump let pass before telling his supporters to call off the riot constituted “dereliction of duty.”
“No man who would behave that way at that moment in time can ever serve in any position of authority in our nation again.”
It is illegal to incite, partake in or assist “any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or laws thereof,” and the committee argues Trump conspired and did so to obstruct the Jan. 6 Electoral College vote count. It carries a possible sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
To date, federal prosecutors have avoided calling the Jan. 6, 2021, violence an insurrection, instead opting for the term “riot” in federal cases charging those who participated in the physical storming of the Capitol.
Law enforcement officials have prosecuted participants in the riot citing criminal statutes related to violence, obstruction of an official proceeding and, in some cases, seditious conspiracy.
The obstruction charge relates to preventing an official proceeding — in this case, the Jan. 6, 2021, congressional certification of the 2020 election results. The charge describes one who “obstructs, influences or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so,” according to US law. It is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
In its Oct. 21 subpoena of Trump, the committee claimed the former president “personally orchestrated and oversaw a multi-part effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.”
“[Trump] summon[ed] tens of thousands of supporters to Washington and, knowing they were angry and some were armed, sen[t] them to the Capitol,” the committee alleged.
Conspiracy to defraud the government describes a crime involving at least two people who “conspire either to commit any offense against the United States or to defraud the United States,” at least one of whom makes “any act” to bring about the conspired goal, according to US law.
The panel alleges that Trump conspired with confidants to illegally overturn the 2020 election, using fraudulent claims, filing lawsuits to delay congressional proceedings and ultimately resorting to inciting the Jan. 6 riot. Conspiracy convictions call for up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Throughout their investigations, the panel found evidence that Trump was aware there was no evidence to support his claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, but pushed the narrative anyway.
A California federal judge in October also found that emails between Trump and his attorneys proved the 45th president knew that the voter fraud claims his attorneys used in court cases to challenge the election results were untrue – something that could be used as evidence to prove a plot to defraud the federal government.
“The emails show that President Trump knew that the specific numbers of voter fraud were wrong but continued to tout those numbers, both in court and to the public,” US District Court Judge David Carter wrote in an 18-page opinion approving the release of the emails to the Jan. 6 panel.
Carter also wrote that the emails were “sufficiently related to and in furtherance of a conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
The committee said that since its last hearing in October, it has continued gathering evidence that Trump knew he had lost the election but pushed to overthrow its results anyway.
For example, former Trump senior adviser Hope Hicks said the former president’s obsession with winning drove his actions after the elections above any commitment to the country.
When it was clear that there was no “evidence of fraud on a scale that would have impacted the outcome of the election,” Hicks said she grew concerned Trump’s false voter fraud claims were “damaging his legacy.” In response, she said, he told her that “nobody will care about my legacy if I lose” and “the only thing that matters is winning.”