WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of the US House committee investigating the Capitol riot said Sunday that they have uncovered enough evidence for the Justice Department to consider an unprecedented criminal indictment against former president Donald Trump for seeking to overturn the results of the country’s 2020 election.
“I would like to see the Justice Department investigate any credible allegation of criminal activity on the part of Donald Trump,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, a committee member who also leads the House Intelligence Committee. “There are certain actions, parts of these different lines of effort to overturn the election that I don’t see evidence the Justice Department is investigating.”
The committee held its first public hearing last week, with members laying out their case against Trump to show how the defeated president relentlessly pushed his false claims of a rigged election, despite multiple advisers telling him otherwise, and how he intensified an extraordinary scheme to overturn Joe Biden’s victory.
Additional evidence is set to be released in hearings this week that will demonstrate how Trump and some of his advisers engaged in a “massive effort” to spread misinformation, pressured the Justice Department to embrace his false claims, and urged then-vice president Mike Pence to reject state electors and block the vote certification on January 6, 2021.
The committee members on Sunday also reiterated that they would present clear evidence that “multiple” GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Scott Perry, had sought a pardon from Trump, which would protect him from prosecution. Perry on Friday denied he ever did so, calling the assertion an “absolute, shameless, and soulless lie.”
“We’re not going to make accusations or say things without proof or evidence backing it,” said Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger.
Lawmakers indicated that perhaps their most important audience member over the course of the hearings may be Attorney General Merrick Garland, who must decide whether his department can and should prosecute Trump. They left no doubt as to their own view of whether the evidence is sufficient to proceed.
“Once the evidence is accumulated by the Justice Department, it needs to make a decision about whether it can prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt the president’s guilt or anyone else’s,” Schiff said. “But they need to be investigated if there’s credible evidence, which I think there is.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, said he does not intend to “browbeat” Garland, but noted the committee has already laid out in legal pleadings criminal statutes which they believe Trump violated.
“I think that he knows, his staff knows, the US attorneys know, what’s at stake here,” Raskin said. “They know the importance of it, but I think they are rightfully paying close attention to precedent in history as well, as the facts of this case.”
Garland has not specified how he might proceed, which would be unprecedented and may be complicated in a political election season, in which Trump has openly flirted with the idea of running for president again.
No US president or ex-president has ever been indicted.
Richard Nixon resigned from office in 1974 as he faced impeachment and a likely grand jury indictment on charges of bribery, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice. Gerald Ford later pardoned his predecessor before any criminal charges related to Watergate could be filed.
Legal experts have said that a Justice Department prosecution of Trump over the riot could set an uneasy precedent in which an administration of one party could more routinely go after the former president of another.
“We will follow the facts wherever they lead,” Garland said in his speech at Harvard University’s commencement ceremony last month.
A federal judge in California said in a March ruling in a civil case that Trump “more likely than not” committed federal crimes in seeking to obstruct the congressional count of the electoral college ballots on January 6, 2021. The judge cited two statutes: obstruction of an official proceeding, and conspiracy to defraud the United States. Trump has denied all wrongdoing.
The assault on the Capitol left more than 100 police officers injured, many beaten and bloodied, as the crowd of Trump supporters, some armed with pipes, bats, and bear spray, charged into the building. At least nine people who were there died during or after the rioting, including a woman who was shot and killed by police.
Rep. Elaine Luria said the committee’s work will also shine a light on critical moments when Trump chose not to act, as violence started to escalate.
“His duty was to stand up and say something and try to stop this,” she said. “So we’ll talk about that and what I see to be his dereliction of duty.”
Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican, who is not a committee member, said it remains clear that what Trump did in the events leading up to the insurrection was inappropriate.
“The president had the opportunity for over three hours to speak up” against the violence, he said. “And I think it was negligence. He should’ve done better.”
“Whether it’s criminal or not, I’m not a lawyer or judge, I thought it was wrong,” Bacon said.
Schiff appeared on ABC’s “This Week,” Raskin spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Kinzinger was on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” and Luria and Bacon appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”