Should the Jan. 6 committee ask the Justice Department to pursue a criminal case against Donald Trump? It’s a question with political heft but no practical effect — and some panel members are increasingly skeptical.
After all, as multiple lawmakers on the select committee noted in recent interviews, the Justice Department is aware of the volume of evidence pointing to violations of the law by Trump. That evidence got underscored emphatically last week, when a federal judge ruled the former president “more likely than not” committed felonies to try to overturn the 2020 election.
The select committee could send a “criminal referral” to Attorney General Merrick Garland outlining its recommendations, lawmakers note, but it would have no substantive value.
“A referral doesn’t mean anything,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), a member of the select committee. “It has no legal weight whatsoever, and I’m pretty sure the Department of Justice has read [last week’s] opinion, so they don’t need us to tell them that it exists.”
Lawmakers and congressional committees have long issued criminal referrals that the Justice Department rarely acts on. A referral against a former president would be unprecedented, bound to set Washington ablaze with speculation and force tough questions for the Biden administration. Jan. 6 committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) has floated such a move, but he reiterated this week that investigators haven’t made a decision yet.