Will Trump Be Charged for Jan. 6? House Committee Floats Potential Charges
By Jason Lemon On 4/2/22 at 1:14 PM EDT
Jan. 6 Committee Send Message To AG Merrick Garland: 'Do Your Job'
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As Donald Trump continues to hold large rallies and tease the possibility
of another White House run in 2024, critics continue to urge the Justice Department to investigate and potentially indict the former president for
his actions connected to the January 6, 2021 attack targeting the U.S.
Capitol and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
Although it's unclear that Trump and his allies will ever face
indictments, the House select committee investigating January 6 and the
events surrounding that day have floated the possibility of several
potential charges against the former president. Additionally, some legal experts have contended that an ongoing probe in Georgia's Fulton County
could result in Trump's indictment as well.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was appointed by President Joe Biden, but has received criticism from many on the left for not pursuing charges against Trump and his allies more aggressively, gave critics of
the former president hope in a recent interview with NPR. The nation's top
law enforcement official said that "everyone" who committed crimes related
to January 6 would be held accountable.
"We begin with the cases that are right in front of us with the overt
actions and then we build from there," he said. "And that is a process
that we will continue to build until we hold everyone accountable who
committed criminal acts with respect to January 6."
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How and whether Trump could be included in the "everyone" remains to be
seen. But the House select committee has laid out some potential charges.
In a court filing in March, the committee suggested that the former
president and some of his allies committed a criminal conspiracy to
defraud the U.S. "The evidence supports an inference that President
Trump...and several others entered into an agreement to defraud the United States by interfering with the election certification process,
disseminating false information about election fraud, and pressuring state officials to alter state election results and federal officials to assist
in that effort," lawyers for the House panel said in the filing.
Donald Trump on January 6, 2021
The House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack
against the U.S. Capitol has floated several possible charges that could
be brought against former President Donald Trump. Above, Trump addresses supporters shortly before the January 6 attack near the White House in Washington, DC. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images
Under federal law (18 U.S. Code § 371) conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the U.S. carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison,
as well as a potential fine.
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U.S. District Court Judge David Carter, in response to that court filing
last month, appeared to agree that Trump may have committed a crime in connection with January 6. "Based on the evidence, the Court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the
Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021," Carter wrote in a late
Federal law (18 U.S. Code § 1505) prohibits the obstruction of proceedings before departments, agencies, and committees. This includes "any inquiry
or investigation" by the House "or any committee of either House or any
joint committee of the Congress." The maximum penalty is a fine and up to
five years in prison, unless the action includes domestic or international terrorism. Then the maximum penalty could be eight years in prison. A
number of legal experts and lawmakers have referred to the events of
January 6 as "domestic terrorism."
Members of the House select committee have also previously alleged that
Trump demonstrated a dereliction of duty on January 6. Representative Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican who serves as the panel's vice chair,
described Trump's actions during the Capitol attack as a "supreme
dereliction of duty" as the former president "refused to tell the mob to
go home after he had provoked that attack," during a March 20 interview
with NBC News.
Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who chair's the committee, similarly said in January that "the harm that I see is the
president of the United States seeing the Capitol of the United States
under siege by people he sent to the Capitol and did nothing during that
Cheney told NBC News that "enhanced criminal penalties" may be required in response to Trump's alleged dereliction of duty, saying the committee
would make "legislative recommendations." The Republican congresswoman explained that she has "not learned a single thing since I have been on
this committee that has made me less concerned or less worried about the gravity of the situation and the actions that President Trump took and
also refused to take while the attack was underway."
A separate investigation in Georgia could potentially lead to charges
against Trump as well. Fulton County's District Attorney Fani Willis in
January got approval from the local Superior Court to seat a special grand
jury with subpoena power as her office investigates Trump's effort to
interfere in the state's 2020 election. Ahead of the Capitol attack, the
former president explicitly urged Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, to "find" enough votes to flip the southern state's election results in his favor.
Willis said in her request to seat the special grand jury that her office
had "received information indicating a reasonable probability that the
State of Georgia's administration of elections in 2020, including the
State's election of the President of the United States, was subject to
possible criminal disruptions." The grand jury will be seated in early
"There's a possibility that after two months we'll have all the
information we need to press forward. There's a possibility that, after
week one, that some appellate issue will come and there's a halt," the
district attorney told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in February. "But
what I do think is within a year we will have all the information that we need."
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Trump's Jan. 6 Actions May Require 'Enhanced Criminal Penalties':
Raffensperger, who voted for Trump and donated to his campaign, has
described the call he received from the then president as "a threat." Some legal experts have suggested the Georgia case may be the most likely in
which Trump could face criminal penalties.
"It's very hard to understand that conversation [between Trump and Raffenspeger] any other way when he says 'you and your lawyer' are going
to be in basically criminal trouble if you don't somehow, 'find' one more
vote than the number by which I lost to Biden, according to your count," Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard, told MSNBC last year.
Under federal law, it is a crime "to deprive or defraud the residents of a State of a fair and impartially conducted election process" through "the procurement, casting, or tabulation of ballots that are known by the
person to be materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent under the laws of
the State in which the election is held." Violators could face up to five
years in prison and a fine.
Trump has consistently rejected allegations that his actions related to
the 2020 election and January 6 were criminal. He has dubbed the House
select committee the "unselect committee," arguing it is purely a partisan attempt to defame him and prevent him from potentially seeking the
presidency again in 2024. The former president has repeatedly disparaged
the committee's two Republican members—Cheney and Representative Adam
Kinzinger of Illinois—saying he does not view them as part of the GOP
While many legal experts believe Trump should and may face charges, some
have pushed back against the possibility of charging a former president
with a crime. Such a step would be unprecedented in U.S. history.
A Friday opinion article by The Wall Street Journal's editorial board
cautioned against pursuing a Trump indictment. The board contended such
action "could drag the country into a legal minefield and a political-
revenge brawl more befitting a banana republic."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said last
year, however, that Trump could face legal consequences for his actions.
"We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil
litigation. And former Presidents are not immune from being held
accountable by either one," he said at a Senate floor speech last year.
Earlier in the same speech, McConnell asserted: "There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the
events of that day [January 6]."