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Jan. 6 committee eyes criminal referrals to Justice Department

The Jan. 6 committee deliberated for months on whether to make criminal referrals to federal prosecutors. That debate has apparently been resolved.


Before the Jan. 6 committee began its televised hearings over the summer, there was some debate among the members about how — and whether — to deal with possible criminal referrals to federal prosecutors. As NBC News reported this morning, the bipartisan panel appears to have resolved that debate.

House Jan. 6 committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., expects the panel to make criminal referrals to the Department of Justice, he told reporters Tuesday. “We have made decisions on criminal referrals,” Thompson said.

Circling back to our coverage from April, the House select committee has long faced a relatively straightforward choice. If investigators uncovered evidence of criminal wrongdoing, the panel could simply release a report pointing to the evidence — and wait to see if prosecutors read and act on the findings.

The other option, of course, is to release a report pointing to the evidence alongside a formal appeal to the Justice Department, seeking action from federal prosecutors.

The House Jan. 6 committee is holding its final public hearing on Monday, Dec. 19 at 1 p.m. ET. Get expert analysis in real time on our live blog at

Some have argued that the latter would be needlessly provocative and ultimately pointless since criminal referrals are largely symbolic: Federal prosecutors make their own decisions about which cases to pursue, and while Congress is free to make suggestions, those requests have no force of law.

But on the other side are those who’ve argued — to my mind, persuasively — that it’s not enough to simply point at evidence of alleged crimes. Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team tried that, releasing a fairly detailed report that highlighted all kinds of misconduct, and to this day, Donald Trump and his followers continue to pretend that the Mueller report “exonerated” the former president, reality be damned.

Evidently, based on Thompson’s comments this morning, it appears this debate among his colleagues has come to an end: The Jan. 6 committee expects to make criminal referrals to the Department of Justice.

As a New York Times report added, the chairman’s comments to reporters this morning comes on the heels of an examination from a subcommittee of four lawyers on the panel — Reps. Liz Cheney, Jamie Raskin, Zoe Lofgren, and Adam Schiff — who specifically studied the issue and settled on a recommendation.

“Among the potential charges they have considered are conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress,” the Times added.

The answer to this question, however, only opens the door to more lines of inquiry. When, exactly, will the committee’s criminal referrals be made? Who will be referred? What will they be accused of? Members are scheduled to meet this afternoon to discuss the next steps. Watch this space.