U.S. Capitol riot probe prepares to ask prosecutors to charge Trump

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U.S. Capitol riot probe prepares to ask prosecutors to charge Trump © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Donald Trump announces that he will once again run for U.S. president in the 2024 U.S. presidential election during an event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. November 15, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The House of Representatives committee probing the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump supporters will vote on Monday to decide whether to ask federal prosecutors to bring multiple criminal charges against the former president.

The Democratic-led panel has spent 18 months probing the unprecedented attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power by thousands of Trump backers, inspired by the Republican’s false claims that his 2020 election loss to Democratic President Joe Biden was the result of widespread fraud.

Criminal referrals to the Justice Department could be on charges including obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and insurrection.

While potentially damaging to Trump’s reputation as he starts a bid for the White House in 2024, any recommendations would be non-binding and the Justice Department itself will decide whether to pursue prosecutions.

The Guardian and Politico first reported the possible charges, citing unidentified sources.

“Viewing it as a former prosecutor, I think there’s sufficient evidence to charge the president,” Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, a member of the committee conducting the investigation, told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

The committee is scheduled to meet Monday to consider referrals and vote on its final report, which it expects to release in full on Wednesday. Panel members have declined to provide specifics before the meeting.

“We’re focused on key players. And we’re focused on key players where there is sufficient evidence or abundant evidence that they committed crimes,” Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democratic committee member, said at the Capitol last week.

The select committee’s work is one of a series of investigations into the riot. Five people, including a police officer, died during or shortly after the incident and more than 140 police officers were injured. The Capitol suffered millions of dollars in damage.

A jury has already found members of the right-wing Oath Keepers militia guilty of sedition for their role in the attack and a special counsel, Jack Smith, is leading probes into Trump’s efforts to overturn his loss and his removal of classified documents from the White House.

Trump has faced a series of legal problems since leaving office. His real estate company was convicted on Dec. 6 of carrying out a 15-year-long criminal scheme to defraud tax authorities.

Trump has dismissed the many investigations he faces as politically motivated. He says the Jan.6 committee, dominated by Democrats, is biased against him.

With Republicans due to take control of the House of Representatives next month, the Jan. 6 committee is expected to be disbanded, even as Trump seeks the Republican nomination to run for the White House again in 2024.

A series of televised hearings and meetings by the committee featured testimony from close associates of Trump, including his eldest daughter, Ivanka – who said she did not believe her father’s stolen-election claims – members of his administration and dramatic videos of the attack, when thousands of rioters stormed the Capitol, sending lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence running for their lives.

Targets being considered for referrals also include former Republican House member and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, attorney John Eastman, former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark and former New York mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, according to multiple media reports.

The committee subpoenaed all five after they failed to comply with requests to testify, although some did so after being subpoenaed.

NBC reported on Monday that the committee believed it had sufficient evidence for criminal referrals against Eastman citing unnamed sources. Eastman’s legal team declined to comment ahead of the hearing.

SOME TRUMP ALLIES DID NOT BELIEVE HIM

In the almost two years since leaving office, Trump has kept up his false claims of election fraud, although dozens of courts, state reviews and members of his own administration, including former Attorney General Bill Barr, have dismissed them as unfounded.

The committee’s hearings included testimony from multiple Trump associates that Trump knew some participants in the riot arrived armed and that he wanted to join the mob as it marched toward the Capitol, after giving a fiery speech.

“The highly partisan Unselect Committee is illegally leaking confidential info to anyone that will listen,” the former president wrote on his Truth Social platform. “How much longer are Republicans, and American Patriots in general, going to allow this to happen.”

But Republicans’ weaker-than-expected performance in midterm elections last month, including losses by multiple candidates who embraced his election falsehoods, showed a significant number of voters reject those claims.

Some prominent Republicans have urged the party to move on from Trump’s focus on 2020 as they select a nominee for 2024. A Reuters/Ipsos poll in October found that two in five Republicans believed Trump was at least partly responsible for the attack.

Federal prosecutors have already gone after two Trump allies that the committee recommended charging. In July, a jury found former Trump adviser Steve Bannon guilty of contempt of Congress for refusing to testify, and former White House adviser Peter Navarro is due to stand trial next month on the same charge.

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