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Jan. 6 panel meets to mull potential criminal referrals for Trump, others

Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., preside over a House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack hearing in October.
J. Scott Applewhite
Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., preside over a House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack hearing in October.

The House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol is poised to meet Friday morning behind closed doors to take up a critical to-do list, including whether to issue potential criminal referrals for former President Trump and others.

A subcommittee is expected to present their recommendations to the full panel on next steps to consider for Trump and other targets of the more than yearlong probe.

"We'll just accept the report, and probably one day next week, make a decision one way or another," said Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the House Select Committee panel.

The subcommittee was formed in October and is comprised of the larger panel's four lawyers: Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Zoe Lofgren and Adam Schiff of California and Republican Vice Chair Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

Trump was subpoenaed by the panel in October, but he filed a lawsuit against the panel to block the move and has not cooperated.

So far, Thompson hasn't ruled out a criminal referral for Trump or others, including the House Republicans who defied subpoenas from the panel. Thompson said other options include a House Ethics Committee referral or not taking any action against the subpoenaed Republicans who didn't testify, which includes GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Thompson has also noted that the panel could take civil-related actions against other witnesses who did not ultimately cooperate with the panel. Also, the panel could work through state bar associations to seek action against lawyers targeted for their roles in attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Friday's meeting comes as the panel is furiously working towards a deadline this month of issuing a comprehensive report of its findings. The panel is due to sunset Dec. 31, and with a Republican majority slated to take over the House, the GOP could turn the tables on the probe to investigate Democrats instead.

This week, Thompson said the panel's staff is close to "pens down," that is, wrapping up its draft writing of what's expected to be a lengthy report before it is fact-checked, finalized and sent to a printer. Thompson has said it could be eight chapters to start.

"It will be very long," Thompson said earlier this week, adding it could be released before the Christmas holiday.

The report is expected to include information that has not been revealed through its blockbuster hearings or other releases of findings, Thompson said.

In addition, the panel plans to share hundreds of transcripts this month. The panel has interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses, and looked to wrap up its final closed-door interviews this week, including one with former Trump White House advisor Kellyanne Conway.

Conway and others could make an appearance in the report if their testimony is relevant to the findings, Thompson said.

The panel, in recent days, also interviewed two key U.S. Secret Service agents who were present with former President Trump on the day of the Jan. 6 attack, Thompson said. Both Anthony Ornato and Robert Engel were mentioned in testimony by former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson. However, no witness has corroborated her second-hand claim that Trump was engaged in a physical altercation with one of his agents on the day of the attack, Thompson has said.

The panel's report is expected to largely focus on Trump, but also go beyond the former president, Thompson has said.

"Some of it will focus on other issues, too," Thompson said.

This could include law enforcement and communication failures seen the day of the Jan. 6 attack.

The findings will be of major interest to the Justice Department. Earlier this year, Thompson and other members had said the panel would begin sharing transcripts with the agency. However, that plan did not come to fruition.

"We did not share anything," Thompson said, adding, "the committee just made a decision not to" share the information earlier.

This week, Attorney General Merrick Garland personally reiterated that the panel's findings will be key for the agency, which appointed a special counsel to oversee a growing probe into Trump.

"We would like to have all the transcripts and all the other evidence collected by the committee ...so that we can use it in the ordinary course of our investigations," Garland said earlier this week.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
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