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Jan. 6 panel could make multiple criminal referrals of Trump to DOJ, Cheney says

WASHINGTON — House Jan. 6 committee members said Sunday that they may make criminal referrals to federal prosecutors involving former President Donald Trump and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. 

Fanning out on Sunday programs to discuss the congressional investigation and its public hearings, committee members said that while no formal decision has been made, they can envision multiple referrals to the Justice Department based on evidence they’ve uncovered while investigating the events surrounding the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the vice chair and one of two Republicans on the panel, said “we’ll make a decision as a committee” about whether to alert the DOJ to possible crimes they have uncovered.

“The Justice Department doesn’t have to wait for the committee to make a criminal referral, and there could be more than one criminal referral,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.”

She also pointed to the explosive public hearing last week in which Cassidy Hutchinson, the former top aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, detailed outbursts of rage from Trump on the day he urged supporters to march to the Capitol. “I don’t f—ing care that they have weapons,” Trump said while urging aides to remove magnetometers near the White House before he addressed a “Stop the Steal” rally, Hutchinson testified. “They’re not here to hurt me.  

“It’s very chilling and I think we will, you know, continue to present to the American people what we found,” Cheney said.

Asked if she was worried about prosecuting a former president who may soon announce another presidential bid in 2024, Cheney said: “I have greater concern about what it would mean if people weren’t held accountable for what’s happened here.”

The panel has been conflicted over whether to refer its findings to the DOJ. Last month, committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told reporters, “We do not have authority,” when pressed on whether they had ruled out the possibility of referring criminal charges for Trump.

As the committee continues to gather new evidence, other members seem to be coalescing behind a referral, which would ratchet up pressure on the DOJ to investigate Trump’s actions. So far, the department has said that federal prosecutors were looking into the scheme to push slates of bogus Electoral College members declaring Trump the winner of states that Joe Biden won.

At the last public hearing in which Hutchinson testified, Cheney pointed to a fresh concern: the committee had learned that Trump allies have tried to influence witnesses who’ve cooperated with the panel.

NBC News has reached out to a Trump spokesman for comment.

Trump has not been charged with any crimes and the committee has no prosecution powers. In public statements, Trump has denounced the committee as a “kangaroo court” and called Hutchinson’s account false.

Another committee member, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., concurred with Cheney that the committee might send multiple criminal referrals. He suggested that the department would be mistaken to excuse Trump just because he is a former president. 

“You know, for four years, the Justice Department took the position that you can’t indict a sitting president,” Schiff said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “If the department were now to take the position that you can’t investigate or indict a former president, then a president becomes above the law.”

Schiff’s comments point to growing tensions between the committee and the DOJ, led by Attorney General Merrick Garland. Department officials have pressed the committee to share transcripts of its witness interviews, bemoaning its “failure” to quickly provide the material.

Citing several officials, the New York Times reported last week that federal prosecutors were “astonished” by Hutchinson’s testimony. Asked about that,  Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif, another member of the committee, said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press”: “I was surprised that the prosecutors were surprised. What are they doing over there?”

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