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Analysis: The Jan. 6 Committee wants the DOJ to charge Trump. Will Americans agree?

Committee members made the case that what Trump and some members of his administration did after the 2020 election was criminal

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The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds its final meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022.

Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., speaks as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds its final meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. From left, Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Thompson, Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va.

Jim Lo Scalzo via Associated Press

The House select committee charged with investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol unanimously recommended on Monday that the Department of Justice charge former President Donald Trump over what they say were his attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and his actions on the day of the Capitol riot.

In a report released at the committee’s final hearing, committee members recommended charging Trump with obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to make a false statement, and inciting an insurrection. After 18 months of deliberation and 10 public hearings, the committee’s full report is expected to be released Wednesday. 

The committee also recommended Trump Administration lawyer John Eastman be charged for his part in allegedly trying to pressure Vice President Mike Pence to not certify the election on Jan. 6, and referred four members of Congress — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, and Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania — to the House Ethics Committee for refusing to respond to the committee’s subpoenas.

Many of the those who took part in the riot have already been charged or convicted for their actions that day, but committee members blamed Trump for inciting the incident and said he should be held accountable. 

“Ours is not a system of justice where foot soldiers go to jail and the masterminds and ringleaders get a free pass,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland. 

Whether to move forward with criminal charges will now be left up to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has already shown a willingness to investigate Trump over his handling of classified material after he left the White House. 

Republicans have levied several complaints against the committee, including over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s refusal to seat two of the GOP-chosen committee members, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan and Indiana Rep. Jim Banks. After Pelosi took the unprecedented move of refusing to seat the two congressmen, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy then pulled all five of his picks from the committee, leaving it in the hands of Democrats and two Republicans who had already voiced their opposition to Trump – Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger. 

In the 2022 midterms, Cheney lost in the Republican primary to Harriet Hageman, while Kinzinger, who had served six terms in the House, chose not to run for reelection.

The committee was also criticized for hiring former ABC News President James Goldston to help produce the televised committee hearings. 

In a statement released Wednesday, Trump’s campaign called the committee a “kangaroo court,” and said the committee “held show trials” with “Never Trump partisans.” And on social media app Truth Social on Monday, Trump said he managed to evade impeachment over similar charges and “WON convincingly.” He also accused Democrats of spying on his campaign and lying to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court.

But committee members claimed Trump knew that he didn’t win the 2020 election, and that he tried to keep Pence from certifying the election anyway. They also claimed he tried to convince state election officials in Arizona and Georgia to swing the election to him, even though he did not win the majority of votes in those states. 

On Fox News on Monday, Pence said what Trump did was “reckless” but said he doesn’t think the former president should be criminally charged.

“But when it comes to the Justice Department’s decision about bringing charges in the future, I would hope that they would not bring charges against the former president … As I wrote in my book, I think the president’s actions and words on January 6th were reckless. But I don’t know that it is criminal to take bad advice from lawyers. And so I hope the Justice Department is careful,” he said.

On Monday, committee members spoke again about the “187 minutes” that elapsed between his speech to his supporters that day and his televised remarks asking Capitol protestors to go home. During that time, many of Trump’s advisors, and even his daughter Ivanka, encouraged him to ask his supporters to stand down, according to committee testimony.

The committee hearings also showed that there were many Republicans, including Pence, former Attorney General Bill Barr and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who refused to give in to administration pressure to overturn the results of the election.  

While the committee released compelling testimony, it is not clear that they were able to convince a majority of Americans that Trump should be criminally charged for his actions on Jan. 6 and over his part in trying to overturn the 2020 elections. A poll earlier this year showed that while two-thirds of Americans believe Trump tried to overturn the elections, only 49% said he committed a crime. 

Now that Trump has launched a third presidential campaign, he will likely say that any charges filed against him are politically motivated. While Americans may not like what Trump did, there is general discomfort in the U.S. over dragging political opponents into court. 

But as Cheney explained at the committee hearing Monday, committee members have another reason to want to see Trump criminally charged — to keep him from running again. 

Trump is “unfit for any office,” she said