One chapter of the never-ending saga of the 2020 U.S. presidential election is coming to an end Monday, with the congressional committee that investigated last year’s January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol offering its final public assessment of how former President Donald Trump tried to claim another White House term despite losing the vote to Democrat Joe Biden.
The House of Representatives panel, after a 16-month investigation that included interviews with more than 1,000 witnesses, examination of thousands of pages of documents related to the final weeks of Trump’s four-year presidency and 10 riveting public hearings, appears set to conclude that Trump and close associates engaged in an “attempted coup.”
The committee comprises seven Democrats and two vocal anti-Trump Republicans. It is set to vote on whether to make criminal referrals to the Justice Department on whether Trump and key advisers should be prosecuted for their actions in trying to upend the election results and thwart Congress from certifying the state-by-state vote counts showing that Biden had defeated him.
The panel has not taken public votes yet on the criminal referrals and its actions will have no official standing.
But its assessment could lend impetus to the ongoing criminal investigations of Trump and others that are being conducted by special counsel Jack Smith, subject to oversight by Attorney General Merrick Garland, and a state prosecutor in the southern state of Georgia.
Last week, a Trump spokesman belittled the possibility of the criminal referrals.
“The January 6th un-Select Committee held show trials by Never-Trump partisans who are a stain on this country’s history,” spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement. “This kangaroo court has been nothing more than a Hollywood executive’s vanity documentary project that insults Americans’ intelligence and makes a mockery of our democracy.”
Ahead of the committee votes on Monday, several panel members have made clear they think Trump should be prosecuted for engaging in a wide-ranging illegal effort to claim another four-year term in the White House.
They also blame him for fomenting the rampage at the Capitol when 2,000 of his supporters stormed into the building, vandalized and ransacked congressional offices, scuffled with police and for hours kept Congress from certifying the Electoral College outcome that Biden had won the presidency.
It was the worst attack on the Capitol, the symbol of U.S. democracy around the world, in two centuries.
In the United States, presidents are not elected by the national popular balloting, although Biden won 7 million more votes than Trump. Instead, presidents are elected in the Electoral College, depending on the state-by-state outcome in each of the 50 states, with the most populous states having the most electors and thus the most sway on the national outcome.
After the rioters were cleared from the Capitol, Congress eventually affirmed Biden’s victory in the early hours of January 7, 2021.
The committee's chairperson, Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, said the referrals may include criminal, ethics violations, legal misconduct and campaign finance violations. The panel’s lawmakers have said that Trump specifically could be singled out for alleged conspiracy to defraud the United States, obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress and insurrection.
One of the committee members, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California, told CNN’s “State of the Union” show Sunday that he believes Trump committed multiple crimes.
On the insurrection allegation, Schiff said, “If you look at Donald Trump's acts and you match them up against the statute, it's a pretty good match."
"This is someone who in multiple ways tried to pressure state officials to find votes that didn't exist; this is someone who tried to interfere with a joint session [of Congress as it tried to certify the Electoral College outcome], even inciting a mob to attack the Capitol," Schiff said.
"If that's not criminal then I don't know what it is,” Schiff concluded.
Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland said last week that the committee's referrals will focus on "key players" where there is abundant evidence that they committed crimes.
Schiff said the committee could also make ethics referrals involving fellow lawmakers Monday.
"We will also be considering what's the appropriate remedy for members of Congress who ignore a congressional subpoena, as well as the evidence that was so pertinent to our investigation and why we wanted to bring them in," Schiff said. "We have weighed what is the remedy for members of Congress. Is it a criminal referral to another branch of government, or is it better that the Congress police its own?"
Among those who refused to comply with a subpoena from the January 6 committee was House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy of California, who is attempting to become the House speaker when Republicans take control of the chamber next month.