Members of the Jan. 6 committee quickly took to the airwaves to declare that a decision has not yet been made on criminal referrals after Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) reportedly ruled it out.
A referral could pressure Attorney General Merrick Garland to open a criminal investigation, though a decision to prosecute will ultimately be up to the Justice Department, whether there is a criminal referral or not.
The panel will “look at the facts” and publicly release the evidence, but it will be up to federal prosecutors to pursue any charges against former President Donald Trump or anyone else, Thompson told reporters Monday.
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“No, you know, we’re going to tell the facts. If the Department of Justice looks at it and assumes that there’s something that needs further review, I’m sure they’ll do it,” Thompson said, as reported by CNN. Thompson added that the committee’s final report would be made public so that “anybody can have access to it.”
“If they want, after reviewing it, to come back and ask to talk to some of the staff or the members who helped produce the report, I’m sure they will,” Thompson said.
Thompson reasserted that the committee’s job was to gather evidence and provide recommendations.
“No, that’s not our job. Our job is to look at the facts and circumstances around January 6, what caused it, and make recommendations after that,” Thompson said.
However, within minutes of these comments being reported, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), vice chairwoman of the committee, said the panel has not come to a conclusion about “potential criminal referrals.”
“We will announce a decision on that at an appropriate time,” Cheney tweeted.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), also a member of the committee, said he was under the impression a decision on referrals would be made after the committee concluded its investigation.
“We haven’t had a discussion about that, so I don’t know that the committee has reached a position on whether we make a referral or what the referrals might be,” Schiff told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
Members of the committee feel they have enough evidence to refer Trump for obstructing a congressional proceeding and conspiring to defraud the people of the United States, according to the New York Times, which noted that there is a split among the panel on whether to make a referral.
Cheney said during the committee’s hearing Monday that Trump had “falsely told the American people that the election was ‘not legitimate,’ in his words, quote, ‘a major fraud.’ Millions of Americans believed him.”
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The Justice Department is already in the midst of an investigation into the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Around 305 people have pleaded guilty to Jan. 6 charges, the agency said last week.
Garland and federal prosecutors are keeping tabs on the summer hearings held by the committee, the attorney general said Monday. “I will be sure that I am watching all of it. And I can assure you that the January 6 prosecutors are watching all of the hearings as well,” Garland said.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and has cast the Jan. 6 panel’s work as a political witch hunt.