What’s the Final Message of the January 6 Committee?
They’ll write a report, maybe make a criminal referral—but what does it mean?
Ever since the U.S. House of Representatives formed a select committee on the January 6 attack on the Capitol, journalists and commentators have left open the question of whether the committee will ultimately recommend that the Justice Department open a criminal investigation into former president Donald Trump. The committee itself doesn’t have the power to bring criminal charges. It can only make a formal statement saying it hopes the Justice Department will do it.
Whether they’ll make such a statement remains a question. It’s an odd question, because for these seven Democrats and two Republicans to serve on this committee in the first place, they had to believe that something was very wrong. They are, after all, making a serious inquiry into the former president, his inner circle, and many of their contacts, including the committee members’ own colleagues in Washington. During a year and three months (and counting), they’ve interviewed over a thousand people. What they’ve learned in the process has strengthened their initial suspicions that Trump committed crimes. The committee has called January 6 a “criminal conspiracy,” and more specifically, it has called Trump’s attempts to overturn the election a “fraud,” given that he knew he lost the election and tried to manipulate others.
The question had to be left open as a formality, because the committee needed a goal for their investigation. They’re also supposed to have a goal of serving some legislative interest, since they are lawmakers (and thus they are proposing changes to the Electoral Count Act). But an important goal is to determine whether they believe a crime was committed.
It’s always been clear that a crime was committed.
My question, then, is why the committee wouldn’t make a criminal referral to the Justice Department.
A Few Possibilities
One reason they might not make a criminal referral is that the Justice Department is already criminally investigating Trump, and the opinions of the House committee aren’t needed to move the wheels there.