Chris Lange, FISM News
The January 6 committee investigating the 2021 Capitol riot appears poised to make criminal referrals to the Justice Department, despite having said back in June that it lacked the authority to do so.
Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara told NBC’s “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd on Sunday that a team of “very seasoned prosecutors” has been created to determine whether Trump can be tried in two criminal cases: one involving his actions surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol breach and the other over his alleged mishandling of classified documents seized in a raid on his Mar-a-Lago estate. Bharara said that the DOJ is “on a path” to charge former President Trump with crimes in either or both of the investigations, though it remains unclear as to what charges he may face if any are forthcoming.
“I don’t think [the prosecutors] would have left their former positions, both in government and private practice, unless there was a serious possibility that the Justice Department was on a path to charge,” Bharara said, adding that prosecutors “generally do not proceed unless you have a great likelihood of success.”
Within days of Trump’s announcement that he would seek a second term in the White House in 2024, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed veteran prosecutor Jack Smith as special counsel in the cases.
Bharara noted that a criminal case against a former U.S. president would be unprecedented, not to mention highly politicized, and said that the Justice Department will have to “have all [their] ducks in a row” in order to pull it off.
“I think you want to have an exceptionally strong case,” Bharara said. “To show not just the jury in the case but the public at large that it was a righteous case, it was a meritorious case, and [that] you have the goods.”
When pressed on his opinion over the implications of the referral by the Jan. 6 committee, Bharara said that he doesn’t know why the referrals are forthcoming as he doesn’t believe that it will have any effect on the DOJ but suggested that it may be a political stunt for the member’s own gain.
WATCH: A criminal referral from the House Jan. 6 committee "doesn't do anything" for the DOJ, @preetbharara says. “It’s largely symbolic.”@chucktodd: Does it add negatively to the political stew?@PreetBharara: "You could argue that. I don't know why they feel the need." pic.twitter.com/0UOKcOUI3H
— Meet the Press (@MeetThePress) December 11, 2022
Back in June, J6 committee chair Rep. Bernie Thompson (D-Miss.) told reporters that the panel would not be making any criminal referrals as a result of their probe.
“Our job is to look at the facts and circumstances around January 6 — what caused it — and make recommendations after that,” he said. Asked specifically if there would be a criminal referral from the committee, Thompson said, “We don’t have authority.” Since that time, however, Thompson has changed his tune, telling reporters that he now expects the panel to issue criminal referrals, though he declined to say who will be targeted.
Panel member Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) told NBC News last week that the committee continues to meet to discuss “decision points.”
“We will announce anything we have likely as a part of our final report,” he said.
The final report from the months-long probe is expected to be released on Dec. 31.
“We haven’t finalized any decisions yet. Our options are on the table. Referrals to outside agencies are possible and as soon as the committee finishes our work moving forward to sharing our results,” Aguilar added.
Washington Examiner reporter Ryan King noted that any criminal referrals made by the committee “have no legal weight, as it will be up to law enforcement agencies to decide whether to pursue criminal charges.”
“While the referrals carry no legal weight, they are being referred to the most politicized Justice Department in American history,” King wrote.
CNN reported last week that J6 panel members are largely in agreement that Trump, along with some of his closest allies, did in fact commit crimes by attempting to block the peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election. Nevertheless, they have reportedly strongly disagreed on whether to make criminal referrals to the DOJ.
“In the past, the question has led to a vigorous, at times contentious, debate among committee members,” the article stated, citing unnamed sources.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who also serves on the committee, pushed back against the notion that a Trump criminal referral would be broadly viewed as a political stunt.
“What does the committee sending a referral do other than look political?” CBS News anchor Margaret Brennan pressed the congressman in Sunday’s installment of the network’s Face the Nation broadcast.
Schiff responded that any criminal referral that comes from the committee will be “an important statement,” but “not a political one.”
“I think it’s an important decision in its own right…one that the department ought to give due consideration to,” he said.
On the Jan. 6 committee's potential criminal referrals it may issue to the DOJ, Rep. Adam Schiff says it would be "an important statement, not a political one."
"I think it's an important decision in its own right…one that the department ought to give due consideration to." pic.twitter.com/KNZc6vMhVx
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) December 11, 2022