The House January 6 select committee will make criminal referrals to the US justice department in connection with its investigation into the Capitol attack, the chairman of the panel said Tuesday, heightening tensions ahead of the release of its final report expected to come later this month.
The targets and details about the referrals were not immediately clear, and the panel’s chairman Bennie Thompson affirmed to reporters only that the panel would issue citations.
But the decision to move forward with referrals comes days after a special four-member subcommittee established to consider the issue recommended that the full committee seek prosecution from the justice department for a number of individuals connected to January 6, two sources said.
The referrals could follow two tracks: citations for things that Congress can request prosecution by statute, such as perjury or witness tampering, or wider-ranging recommendations such as making the case that Donald Trump obstructed an official proceeding on 6 January.
At issue is the value of making referrals when the justice department could now be in a better position to asses potential crimes.
The department in recent months has intensified its own parallel, criminal investigations into the Capitol attack and Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, subpoenaing dozens of Trump advisors and January 6 rally organizers to testify before at least two federal grand juries in Washington.
The select committee might have once argued that it made sense to issue referrals for instance for lying to Congress because it alone could determine whether witnesses had made false statements to investigators.
But with the panel committed to releasing all of its evidence and transcripts alongside the final report, the department might now be best placed to identify false or contradictory statements to Congress, given how federal prosecutors have now interviewed many of the same witnesses.
The justice department has also previously issued charges even when Congress did not make overt referrals; Trump confidante Roger Stone was indicated and convicted in 2019 for lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing a House investigation when he appeared before the House intelligence committee.
The four-member subcommittee led by Congressman Jamie Raskin and the other members with legal backgrounds – the vice-chair Liz Cheney, Adam Schiff and Zoe Lofgren – made its recommendations about referrals and subpoena noncompliance by Republican members of Congress privately on Friday.
The move is likely to lead to intense speculation as the committee puts the finishing touches on its report into the insurrection at the Capitol and those who took part in it and the build up to the attack.
The committee held a series of often dramatic public hearings over the summer where it presented some of its evidence and testimony from the many witnesses it called. The picture the committee painted was one of a plot to foil the certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 election win that was orchestrated by Donald Trump and some of his key allies in his White House.
“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,” a spokesman for the panel said in a statement.
The work of the committee has been the target of often baseless attacks by Trump and many others in the Republican party, who have sought to portray it as a partisan effort, despite the prominence of two rebel Republicans on the panel. But the narrow victory in the House by Republicans in last month’s midterm elections means it will now certainly be wound up as the party takes control of the lower chamber of Congress.