Jan. 6 panel to make criminal referrals, ask DOJ for charges

Jan. 6 panel to make criminal referrals, ask DOJ for charges

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House committee investigating last year’s Capitol riot said Tuesday that the panel intends to ask the Justice Department to issue criminal charges.

“We have made decisions that criminal referrals will happen,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told reporters, according to Lisa Desjardins of PBS.

Thompson made the announcement as members of Congress gathered to present the Congressional Gold Medal to police officers who fought off rioters on Jan. 6, 2021.

“You will make criminal referrals?” a reporter asked Thompson in an initial gaggle.

“Yes,” he said, according to Robert Costa of CBS, before later elaborating.

It’s unclear who exactly would face criminal referrals. The Justice Department already has moved to pursue criminal charges for contempt of Congress against two allies of former President Donald Trump who refused to comply with subpoenas from the select committee.

Rep. Bennie Thompson
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) didn’t say whom the House Jan. 6 committee will target with criminal referrals.
POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon was sentenced to four months in prison for contempt in October. Another former West Wing aide, Peter Navarro — who, unlike Bannon, was a White House employee at the time of the riot — didn’t testify to the panel, citing executive privilege, and is awaiting trial.

It’s unclear what charges the committee is entertaining. It’s illegal to lie to Congress, for example, but such charges are rarely brought. The Justice Department has brought charges against at least 955 people who allegedly participated in the riot.

The recommendation of charges by the Democrat-led panel could give a measure of political cover to federal prosecutors ahead of the anticipated disbanding of the committee when Republicans take control of the House next month.

Capitol rioters
The Justice Department has charged at least 955 people who allegedly were involved in the riot.
AFP via Getty Images

Attorney General Merrick Garland last month appointed a special counsel, veteran prosecutor Jack Smith, to take over investigations into Trump, including probes into his role in the events preceding the violence. Trump has accused Smith of political bias, noting that his wife produced the 2020 Michelle Obama documentary “Becoming.”

Two outgoing House Republicans serve on the House riot committee — Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) excluded Trump-allied Republicans from participating, prompting some GOP leaders to denounce the panel as a “show trial.”

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