First on CNN: January 6 committee considers criminal referrals for at least 4 others
The House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection is considering criminal referrals for at least four individuals in addition to former President Donald Trump, multiple sources told CNN.
The panel is weighing criminal referrals for former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, right wing lawyer John Eastman, former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark and Trump’s former lawyer Rudy Giuliani, the sources said.
The committee has not officially decided whom to refer to the Justice Department for prosecution and for what offenses, sources said. The four individuals who are among those under consideration, and whose names have not been previously reported, provide a window into the panel’s deliberations.
While the criminal referrals would largely be symbolic in nature – as the DOJ has already undertaken a sprawling investigation into the US Capitol attack and efforts to overturn the 2020 election – committee members have stressed that the move serves as a way to document their views for the record.
A spokesperson for the January 6 committee declined to comment.
Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said Thursday that committee members are expected to reach a decision on criminal referrals when members meet virtually on Sunday.
Thompson told reporters on Thursday how members evolved towards the idea of issuing criminal referrals as the panel’s investigation went on.
“I think the more we looked at the body of evidence that we had collected, we just felt that while we’re not in the business of investigating people for criminal activities, we just couldn’t overlook some of them.”
Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who leads the January 6 subcommittee tasked with presenting recommendations on criminal referrals to the full committee, said Thursday, “I think anyone who engages in criminal actions needs to be held accountable for them. And we are going to spell that out.”
“The gravest offense in constitutional terms is the attempt to overthrow a presidential election and bypass the constitutional order,” Raskin told reporters. “Subsidiary to all of that are a whole host of statutory offenses, which support the gravity and magnitude of that violent assault on America.”
Raskin, along with Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Zoe Lofgren, both of California, and the panel’s vice chair GOP Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, comprise the subcommittee.
Schiff told CNN there is a “consensus among the members” regarding referrals and that members are taking a unified approach on that front.
Thompson told reporters earlier this week, “we will make referrals. As to how many, we’ve not decided that yet.” CNN previously reported that the committee is weighing Trump and a number of his closest allies for criminal referrals.
Thompson said the panel is aiming to release its final report and vote publicly on criminal referrals on December 21.
“There will be some form of public presentation. We haven’t decided exactly what that would be,” Thompson said.
The committee subpoenaed Meadows for documents and testimony in September of last year, and he handed over more than 2,000 text messages he sent and received between Election Day 2020 and Joe Biden’s inauguration. The text messages, which were obtained by CNN, reveal how top Republican Party officials, right-wing figures and even Trump’s family members discussed with Meadows what Trump should say and do after the election and in the middle of the insurrection.
Meadows did not turn over other documents he had, and the House committee voted to hold him in criminal contempt of Congress for it and for his refusal to testify, referring the matter to the Justice Department. The Justice Department has declined to indict Meadows for evading his subpoena, given his high level position in the Trump West Wing and claims of executive privilege.
Raskin also suggested Thursday that previous referrals to DOJ for contempt of Congress would not impact how the panel handles these criminal referrals.
“We obviously did contempt of Congress referrals earlier and there’s a whole statutory process for making that happen,” he said. “But you know we will explain our decisions in detail – why we are making certain kinds of referrals for certain people and other kinds for others.”
Eastman sat for an interview with the panel last year, but invoke his Fifth Amendment rights that protect against self-incrimination.
In the midst of a legal fight to obtain Eastman’s emails, a federal judge ruled in March that Eastman, along with Trump, may have been planning a crime as they sought to disrupt the January 6 congressional certification of the presidential election. The FBI seized Eastman’s phone in June as part of its criminal investigation according to a court filing from Eastman.
David O. Carter, a federal judge in California, ordered Eastman to turn over 101 emails from the period around January 6, 2021, that he has tried to keep secret from the House select committee, which after a lengthy court battle, the panel ultimately received.
Carter’s reasoning was a crucial acknowledgment by a federal court that Trump’s interest in overturning the election could be considered criminal.
“The illegality of the plan was obvious,” Carter wrote.
In a hearing over the summer, the panel presented revelations that provided new insight into Eastman’s role as a central figure in the effort led by Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Eastman was integral to the intense pressure campaign that Trump directed at then-Vice President Mike Pence to compel Pence to help carry out a plan to overturn the election results.
In the hearing, the committee walked through how Eastman put forward a legal theory that Pence could unilaterally block certification of the election – a theory that was roundly rejected by Trump’s White House attorneys and Pence’s team, but was nevertheless embraced by the former President.
Clark invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 100 times during his deposition with the committee. Federal investigators have raided Clark’s home as part of their own criminal investigation.
The former DOJ official was facing a criminal contempt of Congress referral at the time after he refused to answer the committee’s questions at a prior deposition. The referral was never sent to DOJ because on the day the committee voted on the contempt referral, Clark’s lawyer informed the committee that he planned to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to not answer questions on the grounds it may incriminate him.
The panel dedicated much of a June hearing to Clark’s role in Trump’s attempts to weaponize the Justice Department in the final months of his term as part of the plot to overturn the 2020 election and stay in power.
The committee in particular zeroed in on the efforts of Rep. Scott Perry, the Pennsylvania Republican, who connected Clark to the White House in December 2020.
CNN has previously reported on the role that Perry played, and the committee in court filings released text messages Perry exchanged with Meadows about Clark.
“He wanted Mr. Clark – Mr. Jeff Clark to take over the Department of Justice,” Cassidy Hutchinson, a former Meadows aide, said about Perry in a clip of her deposition that was played at that hearing.
In its initial subpoena, the committee alleges that Giuliani “actively promoted claims of election fraud on behalf of the former President and sought to convince state legislators to take steps to overturn the election results.” The subpoena also stated that Giuliani was in contact with Trump and members of Congress “regarding strategies for delaying or overturning the results of the 2020 election.”