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In Historic First, House Committee Urges DOJ to Criminally Charge Trump for Jan. 6 Insurrection

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We feature excerpts from the final hearing of the House January 6 committee that resulted in Monday’s unanimous vote to recommend criminal charges against former President Donald Trump. The committee’s 18-month investigation determined that Trump intended to disrupt the results of the 2020 presidential election and played a central role in the U.S. Capitol insurrection. This marks the first time in U.S. history a congressional committee has recommended criminal charges against a former president.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol unanimously voted Monday to refer Donald Trump to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution for attempting to overturn the 2020 election. This marks the first time in U.S. history a congressional committee has recommended criminal charges against a former president. The committee advised that Trump should face four charges, including obstructing an official proceeding, conspiring to defraud the U.S., and inciting and aiding an insurrection. The committee has also recommended charges against attorney John Eastman, who advised Trump on an illegal scheme to overturn the election. In addition, the committee accused four Republican members of the House, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, of violating congressional ethics rules by defying subpoenas from the House committee. The other three Republicans are Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Andy Biggs of Arizona. The January 6th committee is expected to release its final report Wednesday. The committee also plans to release additional transcripts and documents from its 18-month investigation.

During his opening statement during Monday’s hearing, the chair of the January 6th committee, Congressmember Bennie Thompson, said Trump needs to be held accountable.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON: This committee is nearing the end of its work. But, as the country, we remain in strange and uncharted waters. We have never had a president of the United States stir up a violent attempt to block the transfer of power. I believe, nearly two years later, this is still a time of reflection and reckoning.

If we are to survive as a nation of laws and democracy, this can never happen again. How do we stop it? This committee will lay out a number of recommendations in its final report. But beyond any specific details and recommendations we present, there’s one factor I believe is most important in preventing another January 6th: accountability.

So, today, beyond our findings, we will also show that evidence we have gathered points to further action beyond the power of this committee or the Congress to help ensure accountability under law, accountability that can only be found in the criminal justice system.

AMY GOODMAN: Republican Congressmember Liz Cheney, the vice chair of the January 6th committee, voted along with fellow Republican committee member Adam Kinzinger to refer Trump to the Justice Department for potential prosecution. Cheney condemned Trump’s actions January 6th.

REP. LIZ CHENEY: No man who would behave that way at that moment in time can ever serve in any position of authority in our nation again. He is unfit for any office.

AMY GOODMAN: Later in the program, we’ll be joined by two guests to talk more about the committee’s criminal referral, but first let’s turn to the extended excerpts from Monday’s January 6th committee hearing, their final hearing. This is Democrat Zoe Lofgren of California.

REP. ZOE LOFGREN: Throughout the post-election period, ex-President Trump was told repeatedly by his campaign advisers, government officials and others there was no evidence to support his claims of election fraud. Even since our last hearing, the select committee has obtained testimony from new witnesses who have come forward to tell us about their conversations with ex-President Trump on this topic. Here is one of his senior advisers, Hope Hicks.

HOPE HICKS: … seeing evidence of fraud on a scale that would have impacted the outcome of the election, and I was becoming increasingly concerned that we were damaging — we were damaging his legacy.

INVESTIGATOR: What did the president say in response to what you just described?

HOPE HICKS: He said something along the lines of, you know, “Nobody will care about my legacy if I lose, so that won’t matter. The only thing that matters is winning.”

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON: The chair recognizes the gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Kinzinger, for an opening statement.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER: Certainly one of the many important components of our federal government is the Department of Justice. It’s the body that’s responsible for enforcing our laws and investigating criminal wrongdoing. For this reason, it’s of the utmost importance that our Department of Justice operates as a fair and neutral body that enforces our federal laws without fear or without favor. It is this critical function that President Trump sought to corrupt, as he sought to use the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute purported election fraud and to help him convince the public that the election was stolen.

The select committee has made the following findings with respect to the Department of Justice. In the weeks immediately following the 2020 election, Attorney General Bill Barr advised President Trump that the Department of Justice had not seen any evidence to support Trump’s theory that the election was stolen by fraud. No evidence. Over the course of the three meetings in this post-election period, Attorney General Barr assured President Trump that the Justice Department was properly investigating claims of election fraud. He debunked numerous election fraud claims, many of which the president would then go on to repeat publicly. And he made clear that President Trump was doing, quote, “a great, great disservice to the country” by pursuing them.

After Attorney General Barr’s resignation, President Trump requested that the acting leadership of the department, Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue, quote, “just say the election was corrupt, and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.” In other words, just tell a small lie to put the façade of legitimacy on this lie, and the Republican congressmen and I can distort and destroy and create doubt all ourselves. Between December 23rd and January 3rd, President Trump called or met with them nearly every day and was told repeatedly the department investigation showed no factual support for Trump’s fraud allegations. Mr. Rosen and Mr. Donoghue told him that the fraud claims were simply untrue.

As Mr. Rosen and Mr. Donoghue continued to resist, President Trump then tried to install a loyalist named Jeffrey Clark to lead the department as acting attorney general. On several occasions, Clark met with the president, apparently along with Representative Scott Perry, without authorization, promising to take the actions that Barr, Rosen and Donoghue had refused to take. In particular, Mr. Clark intended to send a letter that he had drafted with the help of a political appointee that the White House installed at DOJ with just weeks left in the administration. Mr. Clark intended to send the letter to officials in numerous states, informing them — falsely, of course — that the department had identified significant concerns about the election results in their state and encouraging their state legislatures to come into special session to consider appointing Trump rather than Biden electors. Here’s acting Deputy Attorney General Donoghue describing his reaction to Mr. Clark’s proposed letter.

RICHARD DONOGHUE: Sending emails and drafting letters, without the knowledge of what the department had actually done terms of investigations, that he was being reckless. And I recall toward the end saying, “What you’re proposing is nothing less than the United States Justice Department meddling in the outcome of a presidential election.”

REP. ADAM KINZINGER: Knowing that existing department leadership would not support his false election claims, President Trump offered Mr. Clark the job of acting attorney general. In a dramatic January 3rd meeting in the Oval Office, Rosen, Donoghue, White House counsel Pat Cipollone and White House lawyer Eric Herschmann strongly objected to the appointment of Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general. Mr. Clark pleaded his case and offered to send the letter that he had drafted. The White House counsel called the Clark letter, quote, “a murder-suicide pact.” Numerous White House and Department of Justice lawyers all threatened to resign if Mr. Clark was appointed. Donald Trump would be leading a graveyard. It was only after the threat of mass resignations that President Trump rescinded his offer to Mr. Clark.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON: The chair recognizes the gentleman from California, Mr. Aguilar, for an opening statement.

REP. PETE AGUILAR: John Eastman admitted in advance of the 2020 election that Mike Pence could not lawfully refuse to count official electoral votes, but he nevertheless devised a meritless proposal that deployed a combination of bogus election fraud claims and the fake electoral ballots to say that Mike Pence, presiding over the joint session, could reject legitimate electoral votes for President-elect Biden. But still President Trump accepted and repeated Eastman’s theory and used it to pressure the vice president to take unlawful action.

In multiple heated conversations, President Trump directly pressured Vice President Pence to adopt the Eastman theory and either reject the electors or send them back to the state legislatures. The vice president consistently resisted and repeatedly told the president that he did not possess the authority to do what President Trump directed.

This culminated in an angry phone call on the morning of January 6th between President Trump and Vice President Pence during which the former president repeatedly berated Mr. Pence by cursing and leveling threats. White House staffer Nick Luna was one of the many witnesses who heard the call as it happened. Take a listen at Mr. Luna’s testimony.

INVESTIGATOR: Did you hear any part of the phone call, even if just the end that the president was speaking from?

NICK LUNA: I did, yes.

INVESTIGATOR: All right. And what did you hear?

NICK LUNA: So, as I was dropping off the note, I — my memory — I remember hearing the word “wimp.” Either he called him a wimp — I don’t remember if he said, “You are a wimp,” “You’ll be a wimp.” “Wimp” is the word I remember. Something to the effect, this is — the wording is wrong — “I made the wrong decision four or five years ago.”

REP. PETE AGUILAR: In the face of the vice president’s resistance, the former president and others exerted both private and public pressure to change his mind. In his speech on the Ellipse on the afternoon of January 6th, former President Trump told the crowd that Vice President Pence needed the courage to do what he has to do. Once the riot began, President Trump deliberately chose to issue a tweet attacking Mr. Pence, knowing that the crowd had already grown violent.

Almost immediately thereafter, the crowd around the Capitol surged, and between 2:30 and 2:35 p.m., the Metropolitan Police line on the west front of the Capitol broke. This was the first time in MPD history that a line like this had broken. Rioters at the Capitol were heard chanting “Hang Mike Pence” through the afternoon.

As a result of this unrest, Vice President Pence was forced to flee to a secure location, where he actively coordinated with law enforcement and other governmental officials to address the ongoing violence.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON: The chair recognizes the gentlewoman from Florida, Ms. Murphy, for an opening statement.

REP. STEPHANIE MURPHY: The Department of Justice, Mike Pence and many others stood up for the rule of law and resisted the president’s wishes. In that way, our American institutions held after the 2020 election. But that did not stop President Trump. Instead, he turned to his supporters, those who believed his lies about a stolen election. He summoned a crowd to the nation’s capital on January 6, hoping that they would pressure Congress to do what he could not do on his own.

The select committee has made the following findings on this issue. Two years ago today, in the early-morning hours of December 19th, Donald Trump sent a tweet urging his supporters to travel to Washington for a protest on January 6. “Be there, will be wild!” he tweeted. Between December 19th and January 6, the president repeatedly encouraged his supporters to come to Washington.

The president’s December 19th tweet galvanized domestic violent extremists, including members of the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys and organized militia groups. These individuals began organizing to come to the Capitol in large numbers with the specific intent to use violence to disrupt the certification of the election during the joint session.

Prior to January 6, the FBI, Secret Service, U.S. Capitol Police, D.C. government and other law enforcement agencies gathered substantial evidence suggesting the risk of violence at the Capitol during the joint session. Prior to January — sorry. These included warnings like the following: “Their plan is to literally kill people. Please please take this tip seriously and investigate further,” “President Trump supporters have proposed a movement to occupy Capitol Hill,” “alert … regarding the VP being a dead man walking if he doesn’t do the right thing.” I saw several other alerts saying they will storm the Capitol if he doesn’t do the right thing.

In the days leading up to January 6, President Trump’s advisers explicitly told him that he should encourage his supporters to be peaceful that day. But he refused. One witness, Hope Hicks, provided the committee with records of her text messages on January 6. In one exchange with another staffer, he texted her, “Hey. I know you’re seeing this. But he” — referring to President Trump — “really should tweet something about Being NON-violent.” “I’m not there,” Hicks replied. “I suggested it several times Monday and Tuesday and he refused.”

When Ms. Hicks came in to provide testimony to the committee, we asked her about this exchange. Her explanation is that the “he” in this text wasn’t the president, but rather it was Eric Herschmann. Take a listen to her testimony.

INVESTIGATOR: When you wrote, “I suggested it several times” — and the “it” presumably means that the president say something about being nonviolent — you wrote, “I suggested it several times Monday and Tuesday and he refused.” Tell us what happened.

HOPE HICKS: Sure. I didn’t speak to the president about this directly, but I communicated to people like Eric Herschmann, that it was my view that it was important that the president put out some kind of message in advance of the event.

INVESTIGATOR: And what was Mr. Herschmann’s response?

HOPE HICKS: Mr. Herschmann said that he had made the same, you know, recommendation directly to the president, and that he had refused.

INVESTIGATOR: Just so I understand, Mr. Herschmann said that he had already recommended to the president that the president convey a message that people should be peaceful on January 6th, and the president had refused to do that?

HOPE HICKS: Yes.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON: The chair recognizes the gentlewoman from Virginia, Mrs. Luria, for an opening statement.

REP. ELAINE LURIA: These are the select committee’s findings about President Trump’s dereliction of duty. From the outset of the violence and for several hours that followed, people at the Capitol, people inside President Trump’s administration, elected officials of both parties, members of President Trump’s own family, and even Fox News commentators who were sympathetic to President Trump all tried to contact the White House to urge him to do one singular thing, the one thing that all of these people immediately understood was required: instruct his supporters to leave the Capitol. The president repeatedly refused pleas as he watched the violence at the Capitol on television.

During the day, the president never spoke with National Guard, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice or any law enforcement agency. At no point during the day, or any other, did he issue any order to deploy any law enforcement agency to assist. Multiple witnesses, including President Trump’s White House counsel, testified to these facts. You heard White House employees, who had been speaking directly with President Trump, state that he didn’t want anything done.

The president was making phone calls that afternoon, but they weren’t to law enforcement officials. Rather, President Trump continued to call his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Both President Trump and Mr. Giuliani spoke with congressional leaders, even after the violence had begun, to encourage them to continue delaying the session.

Approximately three hours after being informed of the violence at the Capitol, hours during which, as our evidence has shown, Donald Trump sat in his dining room and watched the violence on television, the president released a video statement in which he again repeated that the election was stolen, told his supporters at the Capitol that he loved them, and ultimately suggested that they disperse. The statement had an immediate impact on elements of the crowd, many of whom who have testified that it led them to depart the Capitol.

At 6:01 p.m., President Trump sent his last tweet of the day. He did not condemn the violence. Instead, he attempted to justify it. “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away,” he wrote. “Remember this day forever!”

There’s no doubt that President Trump thought that the actions of the rioters were justified. In the days after January 6th, he spoke to several different advisers. And in those conversations, he minimized the seriousness of the attack. Here is new testimony from another one of president’s senior advisers, Kellyanne Conway.

INVESTIGATOR: You said you talked to the president the next day. Tell us about that conversation, on the 7th.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Yeah, I don’t think it was very long. I just said, “That was just a terrible day. I’m working on a long statement.” I said it’s crazy.

INVESTIGATOR: What did he say?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Uh, “No, these people are upset. They’re very upset.”

REP. ELAINE LURIA: In the days following the attack, President Trump also expressed a desire to pardon those involved in the attack. Since then, he has suggested that he will do so if he returns to the Oval Office.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON: The chair recognizes the gentleman from Maryland, Mr. Raskin, for an opening statement.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: The first criminal statute we invoke for referral, therefore, is Title 18, Section 1512(c), which makes it unlawful for anyone to corruptly obstruct, influence or impede any official proceeding of the United States government. We believe that the evidence described by my colleagues today and assembled throughout our hearings warrants a criminal referral of former President Donald J. Trump, John Eastman and others for violations of this statute. The whole purpose and obvious effect of Trump’s scheme were to obstruct, influence and impede this official proceeding, the central moment for the lawful transfer of power in the United States.

Second, we believe that there is more than sufficient evidence to refer former President Donald J. Trump, John Eastman and others for violating Title 18, Section 371. This statute makes it a crime to conspire to defraud the United States — in other words, to make an agreement to impair, obstruct or defeat the lawful functions of the United States government by deceitful or dishonest means.

Former President Trump did not engage in a plan to defraud the United States acting alone. He entered into agreements, formal and informal, with several other individuals who assisted him with his criminal objectives. Our report describes in detail the actions of numerous co-conspirators who agreed with and participated in Trump’s plan to impair, obstruct and defeat the certification of President Biden’s electoral victory.

That said, the subcommittee does not attempt to determine all of the potential participants in this conspiracy, as our understanding of the role of many individuals may be incomplete, even today, because they refuse to answer our questions. We trust that the Department of Justice will be able to form a far more complete picture through its own investigation.

Third, we make a referral based on Title 18, Section 1001, which makes it unlawful to knowingly and willfully make materially false statements to the federal government. The evidence clearly suggests that President Trump conspired with others to submit slates of fake electors to Congress and the National Archives. We believe that this evidence we set forth in our report is more than sufficient for a criminal referral of former President Donald J. Trump and others in connection with this offense.

As before, we don’t try to determine all of the participants in this conspiracy, many of whom refused to answer our questions while under oath. We trust that the Department of Justice will be able to form a more complete picture through its own investigation.

The fourth and final statute we invoke for referral is Title 18, Section 2383. The statute applies to anyone who incites, assists or engages in insurrection against the United States of America and anyone who gives aid or comfort to an insurrection. An insurrection is a rebellion against the authority of the United States. It is a grave federal offense anchored in the Constitution itself, which repeatedly opposes insurrections and domestic violence and, indeed, uses participation in insurrection by officeholders as automatic grounds for disqualification from ever holding public office again at the federal or state level. Anyone who incites others to engage in rebelling, assists them in doing so, or gives aid and comfort to those engaged in insurrection is guilty of a federal crime.

The committee believes that more than sufficient evidence exists for a criminal referral of former President Trump for assisting or aiding and comforting those at the Capitol who engaged in a violent attack on the United States. The committee has developed significant evidence that President Trump intended to disrupt the peaceful transfer — transition of power under our Constitution.

The president has an affirmative and primary constitutional duty to act to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. Nothing could be a greater betrayal of this duty than to assist an insurrection against the constitutional order. The complete factual basis for this referral is set forth in detail throughout our report.

These are not the only statutes that are potentially relevant to President Trump’s conduct related to the 2020 election. Depending on evidence developed by the Department of Justice, the president’s actions could certainly trigger other criminal violations.

Nor are President Trump and his immediate team the only people identified for referrals in our report. As part of our investigation, we asked multiple members of Congress to speak with us about issues critical to our understanding of this attack on the 2020 election and our system of constitutional democracy; none agreed to provide that essential information. As a result, we took the significant step of issuing them subpoenas based on the volume of information particular members possessed about one or more parts of President Trump’s plans to overturn the election. None of the subpoenaed members complied. And we are now referring four members of Congress for appropriate sanction by the House Ethics Committee for failure to comply with lawful subpoenas.

Mr. Chairman, we understand the gravity of each and every referral we are making today, just as we understand the magnitude of the crime against democracy that we describe in our report. But we have gone where the facts and the law lead us, and inescapably they lead us here.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON: I now recognize the gentlewoman from Virginia, Ms. Luria, for a motion.

REP. ELAINE LURIA: Mr. Chairman, I move that the committee favorably report to the House the select committee’s final report, which includes the committee’s legislative recommendations and criminal referrals of Donald J. Trump and others, pursuant to Section 4(a) of House Resolution 503.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON: The question is on the motion to favorably report to the House. Those in favor, say “aye.”

COMMITTEE MEMBERS: Aye.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON: Those opposed, “no.” In the opinion of the chair, the ayes have it.

AMY GOODMAN: “The ayes have it.” That was the House select January 6th committee voting unanimously Monday to refer President Donald Trump to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution for attempting to overturn the 2020 election.

When we come back, Robert Weissman, head of Public Citizen, and NYU historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, the author of Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present. Stay with us.

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