The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack wrapped up its work with a recommendation that the Justice Department prosecute former President Trump for several alleged crimes, including inciting insurrection, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and obstruction of an act of Congress. It's the first time in U.S. history Congress has pushed for criminal charges against a former president. The committee said the evidence it uncovered showed that Trump's "Big Lie" — that the 2020 election had been "stolen" from him — triggered the riot by a mob of his supporters seeking to prevent Congress from certifying President Biden's victory. Committee member Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) said the criminal referrals reflected "the magnitude of the crime against democracy."
Trump's 2024 presidential campaign called the Jan. 6 committee a "Kangaroo court" that conducted a show trial, putting "a stain on this country's history." The Justice Department, which now will decide whether to file charges, did not immediately comment. DOJ special counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed last month, already is investigating the plot to reverse Trump's election loss. He said in a statement he would "exercise independent judgment" in determining whether anyone illegally tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. Smith has subpoenaed officials in battleground states, seeking correspondence from Trump and his lawyers. Was the committee's recommendation of charges against Trump a step toward justice, or will it only stir up more chaos?
The evidence shows Trump must face charges
The Jan. 6 committee's findings "fully justify the dramatic step of a criminal referral of a former president," says the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. "For anyone not blinded by partisanship or in thrall to the cult of Trump, the facts assembled by the panel, and contained in an executive summary of its report released on Monday, are shocking and shameful."
The violence at the Capitol was "horrific," but it wasn't an isolated outburst of madness. It "was the culmination of a prolonged and multifaceted effort by Trump and his enablers to seize on spurious claims of voter fraud to maintain Trump's hold on the White House." Prosecutors have "successfully prosecuted foot soldiers in the Trump-orchestrated war on democracy," but "it's critical that the ringleader who exhorted his followers to march to the Capitol to 'take back our country' also be held accountable."
This political gesture only complicates the special counsel's job
The House panel did "useful work gathering documents and putting witnesses under oath," says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial, but this recommendation won't accomplish anything. "A Congressional referral to the Justice Department has all the legal force of an interoffice memo." The special counsel is already investigating Trump's "schemes to stay in office." All the committee's "loud public intervention" will do is complicate his job by giving it the stink of partisanship.
"The wiser course was to let the established facts speak for themselves, while releasing full transcripts of its interviews to provide a complete public record." Smith is trying to determine whether "Mr. Trump's reckless conduct was criminal and whether indicting him is prudent and good for the country." The House put its spin on the evidence, but its theories are unlikely to convince a unanimous jury. Jan. 6 wasn't an insurrection. It was just "a rally that turned into a riot."
DOJ should charge Trump quickly, before the 2024 election
If Attorney General Merrick Garland does what the Jan. 6 committee recommends, "Donald Trump may very well be running for president in 2024 under criminal indictment for inciting insurrection and other federal crimes," says the Houston Chronicle in an editorial. But the American people have to decide for themselves whether they are going to continue what Trump, "con-man extraordinaire," is peddling. Trump has pushed "Trump digital trading cards for $99 a pop, Trump-labeled bottled water, Trump-branded steaks," and "Trump University" real estate investment seminars that "crashed with the future president paying a $25 million settlement to former students." Will Americans finally stop letting themselves be "fooled"?
Let's hope Garland and Smith settle this "well before the 2024 presidential campaign begins in earnest," writes the Chronicle. If we're lucky, these criminal referrals "will serve as a splash of cold water for die-hard Republicans, for all Americans." If enough "Trump-besotted" Republicans hear this "much-needed wake-up call," maybe the GOP will be able to move beyond Trump, and "principled, pragmatic conservatives" will get back to the kind of serious debate we need for lawmakers from every persuasion to work together to govern this country effectively.
Whatever happens next, the committee did what it had to do
The Jan. 6 committee has no control over what happens next, says The New York Times in an editorial. The rest of us will have a lot to process from its report. "But given the facts that have been revealed, these hearings had to end with criminal referrals against Donald Trump and his minions." The committee has done its job.
The panel showed it was serious by "refusing to put forth a laundry list of defendants," focusing instead on Trump and key allies, including John Eastman, the lawyer who was Trump's "outside coup counsel," and Jeffrey Clark, a lawyer who worked toward the same goal from within the government. "Focusing on the very best cases avoids diluting the effect of the referrals with more tenuous theories against a large number of actors, and emphasizes the cases the prosecutors can actually win."