House January 6th panel 'increasingly skeptical' about what indicting Donald Trump would accomplish: report

House January 6th panel 'increasingly skeptical' about what indicting Donald Trump would accomplish: report
Donald Trump during his inauguration speech on January 20, 2017, Wikimedia Commons

The House Select Committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection is debating whether a criminal referral of former President Donald Trump to the Department of Justice is the most effective path forward to ensuring that the United States never again has to endure a violent challenge to the results of a presidential election.

Recent reporting, as noted by Andrew Prokop at Vox.com, suggests that some committee members "are increasingly skeptical" about whether a criminal referral would help accomplish its stated objectives of preventing a repeat of Jan. 6 and developing a total picture of what happened and why.

The committee doesn't have the power to file criminal charges against anyone, but it can recommend that the Justice Department do so. The House already has approved four criminal referrals from the committee for contempt of Congress against Steve Bannon, Mark Meadows, Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro — four Trump aides who have refused to turn over some or all records to the committee.

Some committee members, like Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) question the importance of a referral of Trump to the DOJ. “A referral doesn’t mean anything,” Lofgren told Politico.

Lofgren isn't wrong. The DOJ is under no obligation to follow through on referrals and often it doesn’t.

Prokop writes that there are two ways the Select Committee could work to ensure there's no repeat of Jan. 6 and, at the same time, weaken Trump's chances of regaining the presidency in 2024.

"The first would be to make their case against Trump in the court of public opinion," according to Prokop. "If their report contains damning findings about Trump, then perhaps some swing voters might be persuaded not to restore him to office. If this is the main goal, the committee’s report actions and eventual report should be aimed at the public.

"The second would be to make a criminal indictment of Trump, and perhaps his conviction, more likely. Again, this would in part be about turning up actual damning findings, but the key audience here wouldn’t be the public — it would be top Justice Department officials like Attorney General Merrick Garland."

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