Democrats on the House Jan. 6 committee pushed back Sunday against the notion that any criminal referrals by the panel to the Department of Justice would simply be “symbolic” and for political purposes.
As the committee prepares to publish on Dec. 21 its final report about last year’s attack on the U.S. Capitol, members are weighing who to recommend that the DOJ investigate and prosecute for potential crimes.
Legal scholars have noted that any criminal referrals would be non-binding and come as the DOJ already has been investigating the matter for more than a year.
“It’s largely symbolic because at the time we first started having this debate about a referral, it wasn’t clear how far along the Justice Department was,” former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Since then, the Justice Department has appointed a special counsel, as we mentioned. And they had a lot of staff they’ve added to the matter. And they’re far along, and they’ve issued subpoenas that we’ve heard reports about. They’re investigating this thing anyway.”
Mr. Bharara added that he believes referrals will have “no impact on the Justice Department whatsoever.”
Jan. 6 panel members rebuffed that assertion on Sunday and defended the work they’ve conducted as it draws to a close at the end of the year.
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The committee’s list of potential criminal referrals reportedly includes former President Donald Trump, former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, former Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, former DOJ official Jeffrey Clark and conservative lawyer John Eastman.
“What is the quantum of evidence that we have against individuals? What is the impact of making a referral? Are we going to create some suggestion by referring some, that others there wasn’t sufficient evidence, when we don’t know, for example, what evidence is in the position of the Justice Department?” Rep. Adam Schiff, California Democrat and committee member, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “If we do make referrals, we want to be very careful about how we do them. But I think we’re all certainly in agreement that there is evidence of criminality here, and we want to make sure that the Justice Department is aware of that.”
Mr. Schiff said the committee was meeting later that day to discuss potential referrals.
“I think it makes an important statement, not a political one, but a statement about the evidence of an attack on the institutions of our democracy and the peaceful transfer of power, that Congress examining an attack on itself is willing to report criminality,” he added.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of the panel’s two Republican members, offered a less than full-throated defense. He said that while he does not think “criminal referrals are pointless,” he suggested they are primarily “symbolic.”
“The criminal referrals themselves aren’t necessarily something that is going to wake DOJ up to something they didn’t know before, but I do think it will be an important, symbolic thing that the committee can do,” Mr. Kinzinger said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Even more than symbolic. Just very clear that Congress thinks a crime has been committed here or the DOJ should investigate it.”