It took more than two years after he left office, but the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the capitol finally took an unprecedented step against former president Donald Trump: It referred its findings to the Justice Department, marking the first time a body of Congress officially accused a former president of committing crimes while in office.
The bipartisan committee, chaired by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-La.), faced a deadline to wrap up its work ahead of Republicans taking control of the House in January. GOP leadership planned to shut down the committee once they took over, protecting Trump and ending Congress’ formal inquiry into the deadly riot that happened immediately after he exhorted crowds at his “Stop The Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021, to march to the Capitol in protest of the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Trump, who has already announced his 2024 presidential candidacy, lost in 2020 but continues to push the lies that he actually won and that the election was stolen by Democrats. In the ensuing years, his supporters have suffered most of the fallout from his alleged actions. Nearly 1,000 people have been charged in connection with the riot; about half that number have pleaded guilty, according to a database kept by Insider. One woman who was part of the mob was shot and killed inside the Capitol by Capitol Police. Jury selection in the federal trial of Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio started today. Tarrio is charged by the feds of conspiring to lead his followers in taking over the Capitol even though he wasn’t physically in Washington, D.C., that day.
And instead of a predicted “red wave” against an unpopular president in Joe Biden, Republicans pitched a midterm dud, gaining only a slight advantage in the House but losing ground in the Senate. Trump-backed candidates like Herschel Walker in Georgia and Kari Lake in Arizona fizzled.
It’s arguable that the only person directly involved in what happened on Jan. 6 and who’s yet to face legal consequences is Trump himself, and today’s criminal referral doesn’t mean that he will. It doesn’t obligate the Justice Department to charge Trump or even to open a formal investigation on the basis of the evidence gathered by the committee. But it does mean that after more than a year of closed-door interviews, court fights over subpoenas and prime-time hearings, the committee concluded that they believe there’s enough evidence that Trump committed a crime and that he should be held accountable.