Jan. 6 committee to make criminal referrals based on evidence gathered during hearings

Decision whether to lay charges is ultimately up to the U.S. Justice Department

Posted: December 06, 2022
Last Updated: December 19, 2022

A video of Donald Trump is displayed as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol sits on Oct. 13, 2022. The committee has confirmed it will make criminal referrals based on evidence it heard. (Alex Wong/The Associated Press)

The U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol will make criminal referrals to the Justice Department as it wraps up its probe and looks to publish a final report by the end of the year, the panel's chair said Tuesday.

Rep. Bennie Thompson told reporters that the committee has decided to issue the referrals recommending criminal prosecution, but did not disclose who the targets will be or if former U.S. president Donald Trump will be among them.

"At this point, there'll be a separate document coming from me to DOJ," Thompson told reporters at the Capitol.


The decision to issue referrals is not unexpected. Rep. Liz Cheney, the vice-chair of the committee, has for months been hinting at sending the Justice Department criminal referrals based on the extensive evidence the nine-member panel has gathered since it was formed.

Thompson said the committee is meeting later Tuesday to discuss the details.

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Members of Congress investigating the U.S. Capitol riot are set to vote on whether to recommend criminal charges be pursued against some of those involved in the attack, including against former U.S. president Donald Trump.  2:56

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"The committee has determined that referrals to outside entities should be considered as a final part of its work," a spokesperson for the select committee told The Associated Press. "The committee will make decisions about specifics in the days ahead."

While Congress can send criminal referrals to the Justice Department, it is ultimately up to federal prosecutors whether to pursue charges.


In the past year, the committee has referred several members of Trump's inner circle to the agency for refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas. So far only one contempt of Congress charge, against Steven Bannon, has turned into an indictment.

The panel — comprised of seven Democrats and two Republicans — has sought to create the most comprehensive record of what the lawmakers have called Trump's "staggering betrayal" of his oath of office and his supporters' unprecedented attempt to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden's victory.

Capitol officers honoured

Also on Tuesday, the House presented Congressional Gold Medals to law enforcement officials who defended the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opened an emotional ceremony in the stately Capitol Rotunda, which was overrun that day. She praised the officers for "courageously answering the call to defend our democracy in one of the nation's darkest hours."

U.S. Capitol police officer Eugene Goodman, who lured rioters away from senators on Jan. 6, 2021, talks with colleagues after a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony Tuesday. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said: "Thank you for having our backs. Thank you for saving our country. Thank you for not only being our friends, but our heroes."


But showing the raw political and emotional fallout from the insurrection and its aftermath, representatives of one of the medal recipients — the family of fallen officer Brian Sicknick — declined to shake hands with Republican leaders, snubbing McConnell's outstretched palm.

Police officers applaud during Tuesday's medal ceremony. (Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

The committee built its case against the former president over a series of public hearings that began in early June and included live and video testimony from members of Trump's family, his White House aides and other allies. At the end of the last hearing, the committee voted unanimously to subpoena Trump for his testimony under oath as well as documents. In response, Trump filed a lawsuit against the panel.

With the select committee set to dissolve at the end of the year, lawmakers do not appear to be putting up a fight to secure Trump's testimony. But his criminal referral, as Cheney and others have suggested, could prove to be a much more powerful closing argument.

Trump is facing more serious legal challenges off Capitol Hill, including the Mar-a-Lago investigation focused on the potential mishandling of top-secret documents.

Committee vice-chair Liz Cheney speaks, flanked by Chair Bennie Thompson, left, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger. Thompson declined to name who was included in the referrals. It will be up to the Justice Department whether to lay charges. (J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press)