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January 6th Committee Criminal Referrals

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #49 | By: Maureen Darby-Serson | December 27, 2022

Header photo taken from: Jabin Botsford / Pool / Reuters

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In a sweeping 160-page summary released by the Justice Department, Trump is labeled the "central cause" of the Jan. 6th attack and listed four charges they recommended be brought against him.

The Justice Department is not obligated to act on such referrals to charge Trump, or even to acknowledge them. But the public hearings outlining Trump's "multi-part scheme" to overturn the 2020 presidential election have amped up pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland to bring criminal charges against Trump, which would be the first in history against a former president.

Photo taken from: The Associated Press

Policy Summary

On Monday, December 19th, 2022, the January 6th Committee announced that it would be sending several criminal referrals, including referrals for former President Donald Trump, to the Department of Justice. Donald Trump was referred for at least four criminal charges: obstructing an official proceeding, defrauding the United States, making false statements, and assisting or aiding an insurrection. 

John Eastman was the only other individual specifically named in the referals but the committee said that others may be referred as well. The Committee also referred several Republican House members to the House Ethics Committee for not complying with subpoenas. It is unclear what the referrals to the Ethics Committee will amount to when the newly elected House takes over in January. These House members are Kevin McCarthy, Jim Jordan, Scott Perry, and Andy Biggs.

Policy Analysis

The criminal referrals are mostly symbolic as the Department of Justice is not required to follow through with them. However, the Committee made the referrals because they believed they had enough evidence to bring forth criminal charges against Donald Trump and will be turning over that evidence to the Justice Department with their recommendations. If the Justice Department goes through their evidence and finds that the Committee was correct, they may agree and charge the former President with a crime. This will be an unprecedented moment as a former President, let alone one that has announced that they are running for a new term as President, has never been charged with a crime after leaving office.

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In addition, these referrals may not diretly be acted upon due to the current Department of Justice’s on-going investigations into former President Trump and what they have found so far. The Justice Department and Special Counsel may have already found evidence of criminal conduct during their investigations and may already be preparing criminal charges.

Either way, Donald Trump is in trouble. Whether that is criminal trouble or a problem for his new presidential run is yet to be determined. It also has yet to be determined how this will impact the 2024 election and  Trump’s ability to run for President.

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