The most anti-climactic moment yet from the congressional hearings on the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, came yesterday when Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) indicated that the panel would not refer anyone to the Justice Department for criminal justice prosecution.
This surprised many of Thompson’s colleagues who had been traveling the country and squawking in front of cameras for months that the committee was going to send people to jail.
Thompson’s surprise announcement has taken the wind out of the committee’s sails and given the leftist commentariat the vapors. Columnists and websites have played the grand game for months of guessing how many Trump associates will follow the former president into the dock and how many years they’ll spend in jail.
Now Thompson wants to leave it up to DoJ to shed political blood over the Capitol riot.
The congressman himself was talking about indictments as far back as the beginning of the year.
In an article published this year, Thompson told NBC News that the evidence gathered in 2021 pointed to Congress formally asking the Justice Department to use its work as the basis for prosecutions.
“The potential for criminal referrals is there,” he said.
And Liz Cheney has been chomping at the bit to indict Trump and several of his associates.
“It’s absolutely clear that what President Trump was doing — what a number of people around him were doing — that they knew it was unlawful. They did it anyway,” Cheney said during a CNN interview at the time, when asked her whether the committee had enough evidence for a criminal referral.
The committee has previously advanced measures to refer former Trump aides to the Justice Department for contempt of Congress charges over refusal to comply with subpoenas. Those referrals required a House vote before they could be sent to the Justice Department.
It’s not at all clear — even after months of hearings — that Trump’s actions after the election were criminal in nature. And the steps taken to overturn the election may have been controversial and unprecedented, but no one has yet been able to prove criminality to anyone’s satisfaction — except rabid Democratic partisans and a couple of glory-hunting Republicans.
I would not want to be in Attorney General Merrick Garland’s shoes when the Committee’s work is done.
Thompson’s comments put more pressure on Attorney General Merrick Garland, who might find himself facing the politically fraught decision of whether to pursue a criminal case against Trump. So far, there is nothing to suggest Trump has become a criminal target.
Indeed, after months of testimony, viewing tens of thousands of documents, watching thousands of hours of videotape, and hearing from dozens of witnesses, no prosecutable crime has been uncovered that would send the former president to jail.
There may have been fraud committed when raising money to fight what Trump called a “fraudulent election.”
In the closing minutes of the hearing Monday, the committee pivoted toward the Trump campaign’s efforts to raise money on allegations of voter fraud. In the run-up to Jan. 6, Trump supporters would each receive as many as 25 emails a day requesting donations for the so-called Official Election Defense Fund, the committee said.
The committee said no such fund existed and that many donations went to Mr. Trump’s Save America political-action committee. In the weeks following the November election, Mr. Trump raised about $250 million, the select committee said.
But fundraising violations fall under the purview of the FEC, not Congress. And proving a criminal act by Trump would be nearly impossible.
It may be disappointing to Democrats, but making sweeping political allegations of wrongdoing won’t automatically lead to criminal indictments. But who’s going to remember the facts when the narrative has been set in stone and the allegations have become public record?