Jan 6. committee 'obligated' to consider criminal referrals, chairman says

The one-year anniversary of the attacks is approaching.

January 02, 2022, 12:19 PM

The committee investigating the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol "is obligated" to report any crimes it uncovers to the Justice Department, according to the committee's chairman, despite calls from several legal experts that such a move would be counterproductive.

"If, in the course of our review, we find something that we think warrants review or recommendation to the Department of Justice, to be honest with you, we will do it," Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., the chairman of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, said Sunday on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

"We are not looking for it," he continued. "But if we find it, we will absolutely make the referral."

As the one-year anniversary of the Capitol siege nears, the House select committee's sprawling probe is in full swing. In the past six months, the panel has interviewed more than 300 people, issued more than 50 subpoenas and obtained tens of thousands of records.

The chairman told Stephanopoulos the committee has uncovered information that "causes us real concern."

"We're in the process of documenting it. We're getting volumes of material, we're talking to witnesses, but I can assure you what we have seen causes of real harm," he said on "This Week."

PHOTO: January 6th committee chairman Bennie Thompson testifies before the House Committee on Rules on a resolution recommending that the House find former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress at the Capitol, Dec. 14, 2021.
January 6th committee chairman Bennie Thompson testifies before the House Committee on Rules on a resolution recommending that the House find former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress at the Capitol, Dec. 14, 2021.
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA via Shutterstock

Thompson said the attack "appeared to be a coordinated effort" with many involved.

"It could be people in the executive branch. It could be people in the Department of Defense, some state characters, some nonprofits and some very wealthy individuals who wanted to try to finance this undermining of our democracy," he said. "What people saw on Jan. 6 with their own eyes was not just something created at one moment. It was clearly, what we believe based on information we've been able to gather, a coordinated activity on the part of a lot of people."

Legal and ethics experts have warned the panel that it risks setting dangerous precedent if it chooses to submit criminal referrals for former President Donald Trump or lawmakers who communicated with him as protesters stormed the Capitol complex.

Stan Brand, an ethics expert who served as House general counsel under Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neal, told ABC News that such a move could be a "precedential danger" that future GOP-led committees could similarly attempt.

The select committee has formally requested interviews with Reps. Scott Perry, R-Pa., and Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. Jordan is of interest to investigators for his conversations with Trump on Jan. 6, while Perry has been linked to unsuccessful efforts to get the Trump Justice Department to investigate claims of election fraud in late 2020. Thompson previously said he has invited House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to sit for an interview with investigators.

"Any evidence that you've come across that some of your fellow members of Congress may be culpable?" Stephanopoulos asked Thompson on Sunday.

"Well, we're in the process of getting to that. As you know, we've asked to members of Congress to voluntarily come before our committee. We will probably be asking some more to come," Thompson said. "We just want to make sure we get to the bottom of it and we produce a report that can be viewed with integrity and accuracy by the American people."

Thompson has previously indicated that the Jan. 6 probe will enter a new phase in the coming months, with plans to hold public hearings. He said the panel will aim to issue an interim report over the summer, ahead of a final report in the fall.

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