The House Jan. 6 committee voted unanimously on Monday to urge the Justice Department to charge former President Donald Trump with four crimes for his role in the 2021 attack on the Capitol. The move could put Mr. Trump behind bars and prevent him from seeking the presidency again.
The panel also recommended charges against conservative lawyer John Eastman, who was advising Mr. Trump and his allies on legal theories to stop the congressional certification of the election. Lawmakers said they are further recommending charges against other unnamed Trump associates.
The panel also is referring four House Republican lawmakers to the Ethics Committee for failure to comply with the panel’s subpoenas — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, and Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Andy Biggs of Arizona.
Wrapping up its 18-month investigation, the majority-Democrat panel recommended that federal prosecutors pursue charges against the former president for inciting the attack on the Capitol by the pro-Trump mob, obstructing an official proceeding of Congress, conspiracy to defraud the government and making false statements on fake presidential electors.
In a companion report released Monday, the Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol said Mr. Trump was the “central cause” of the attack and that the riot would never have happened without him.
Mr. Trump said the move was intended to derail his 2024 campaign for the White House, but predicted the move wouldn’t harm him.
SEE ALSO: House Jan. 6 Committee previews final report focused on Trump’s role in Capitol attack
“What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “These folks don’t get it that when they come after me, people who love freedom rally around me. It strengthens me.”
He said Democrats “are out to keep me from running for president because they know I’ll win and that this whole business of prosecuting me is just like impeachment was — a partisan attempt to sideline me and the Republican Party.”
Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, said the committee is providing “a road map to justice” for prosecutors. He said the committee‘s 18-month investigation requires further “accountability that can only be found in the criminal justice system.”
“He lost the 2020 election and knew it,” Mr. Thompson said of Mr. Trump. “But he chose to try to stay in office through a multipart scheme to overturn the results and block the transfer of power.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, Maryland Democrat, said Mr. Trump and others who plotted the attack should not go unpunished while his supporters are being prosecuted for rioting at the Capitol at his behest.
“Ours is not a system of justice where foot soldiers go to jail and masterminds and ringleaders get a free pass,” Mr. Raskin said. “We understand the gravity of each and every referral we are making today, just as we understand the magnitude of the crime against democracy that we described in our report.”
In January 2017, Mr. Raskin was one of seven House Democrats who voted against certifying Mr. Trump‘s presidential electors. He cited everything from “cybersabotage by [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, to deliberate voter suppression by Republicans in numerous swing states.”
Committee Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, two anti-Trump Republicans who are leaving Congress in two weeks, joined all seven Democrats in approving the criminal referrals.
The recommendations mark a rare escalation by Congress against a former president for actions taken while he was in office. But the final decision to pursue charges rests with the Justice Department, which is conducting its own investigation into the Capitol riot and recently appointed a special counsel.
The former president would face up to 10 years in prison for inciting or assisting an insurrection, the most serious charge proposed by the committee, should the Justice Department decide to prosecute. The charge would bar Mr. Trump, who has announced a new bid for the White House in 2024, from holding public office again.
Four people died at the riot, including two in the pro-Trump mob who died of heart attacks and one who died of a drug overdose. Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer near the House speaker’s lobby.
Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick suffered a stroke on Jan. 6 and died the next day. The medical examiner ruled his death was from natural causes.
About 140 police officers were injured during the attack on the Capitol, and at least 964 people have been charged with crimes stemming from the riot.
The referral against Mr. Trump, especially on charges of inciting or assisting an insurrection, places the Department of Justice in uncharted territory, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin O’Brien told The Washington Times.
“The Justice Department has an obligation to determine for itself whether the evidence warrants an indictment,” said Mr. O’Brien, who now specializes in white-collar criminal defense as a partner at Ford O’Brien Landy LLP. “And those standards are quite high.”
He said the committee‘s referral “may help in that endeavor, because there may be new evidence summarized in the committee‘s report.”
“But it doesn’t really answer the question, which is, ‘Do we have sufficient evidence to indict someone of one of these serious crimes?’” he said.
Mr. O’Brien said time is of the essence in making that determination, due to the 2024 presidential campaign calendar.
“If there is going to be an indictment, you want that indictment out there and a trial held before the next presidential election,” he said. “It’s almost impossible for that to happen, even if Trump would be indicted within the next few months. You’re not going to have a clear resolution of any indictable case by the time election season rolls around. That’s going to be unsettling for the country. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t do it if they have the evidence, but it is a drawback.”
The panel said Mr. Trump still poses a threat to American democracy.
Ms. Cheney, the panel’s vice chair, said Mr. Trump is the only president in history who “refused his constitutional duty” to transfer power peacefully. She said it was “shameful” that Mr. Trump watched the riot unfold on TV from the White House but did nothing to stop it for hours, and called his actions “unlawful.”
“No man who would behave that way at that moment in time can ever serve in any position of authority in our nation,” Ms. Cheney said.
The former president, who endorsed a Republican challenger who defeated Ms. Cheney in Wyoming’s primary this year, gloated on his Truth Social platform Monday that Ms. Cheney “lost by 40 points!” She is considering a challenge to Mr. Trump for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024.
Mr. Trump has condemned the committee‘s investigation as a partisan “kangaroo court” and said its findings were preordained.
Monday’s hearing ignited a swift response from Republicans on Capitol Hill, including Mr. Jordan, one of the lawmakers referred to the Ethics Committee.
“This is just another partisan and political stunt made by a select committee that knowingly altered evidence, blocked minority representation on a committee for the first time in the history of the U.S. House of Representatives, and failed to respond to Mr. Jordan’s numerous letters and concerns surrounding the politicization and legitimacy of the committee‘s work,” said Russell Dye, a spokesman for Mr. Jordan.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, New York Republican, called the committee‘s action “a partisan charade” that will have consequences when the GOP takes control of the House next month.
“The Republican majority will hold House Democrats accountable for their illegitimate abuse of power,” she said.
Conspiracy to defraud the government and obstructing an official proceeding both carry sentences of up to five years in prison.
Throughout its series of public hearings over the summer, the Democratic-led panel consistently focused on the efforts of Mr. Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 presidential election and his role in stoking the violence at the Capitol.
Committee members have emphasized that Jan. 6, 2021, riot was part of a coup that Mr. Trump engineered when he encouraged a rally of his supporters to “fight like hell” at the Capitol to disrupt congressional certification of his loss to President Biden.
Mr. Trump claimed Monday that he “pushed for 20,000 troops to prevent violence on Jan. 6, and that I went on television and told everyone to go home.”
While Mr. Trump was involved in discussions before Jan. 6 about the National Guard response, he did not issue any orders for troops before or during the rioting. He issued a video statement about three hours after the attack began, urging supporters to go home.
The committee capped its final hearing last month by voting unanimously to issue a subpoena demanding that Mr. Trump turn over documents and testify. The move sparked a legal battle that is likely to outlast the panel’s charter.
On Monday, during what was expected to be the committee‘s final proceeding before its term expires under a Republican-led House next month, the panel also recommended charges against Mr. Eastman. He was a member of the former president’s legal team who is widely viewed as the architect behind Mr. Trump‘s plan to hold on to power following the 2020 election.
The Justice Department has pursued charges against two former White House advisers — Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro — after receiving contempt referrals from Congress for spurning the committee‘s demands.
A federal judge last month sentenced Mr. Bannon to four months in prison and ordered him to pay a $6,500 fine after being convicted on contempt of Congress charges in July.
Mr. Bannon has since appealed the conviction. His prison term has been delayed pending that appeal.
The committee also began releasing key details behind its final report, including an executive summary and list of witnesses who came forward throughout the investigation.
The 161-page document released Monday focuses primarily on Mr. Trump‘s actions to overturn the 2020 election and what the committee said were his actions that led to the violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
“In the Committee‘s hearings, we presented evidence of what ultimately became a multi-part plan to overturn the 2020 presidential election,” the executive summary of the final report reads. “That evidence has led to an overriding and straight-forward conclusion: the central cause of January 6th was one man, former President Donald Trump, who many others followed.”
The findings specifically accuse Mr. Trump of disseminating false allegations of election fraud related to the 2020 presidential contest, pressuring state and local election officials in the wake of the election, summoning his supporters to Washington on Jan. 6, and inciting violence by his supporters at the Capitol.
“None of the events of January 6th would have happened without him,” the committee concludes in the report.
The committee‘s final report is expected to be released later this week.
• Mica Soellner contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the number of people who died at the Jan. 6, 2021, riot. Four people died at the Capitol that day.