The chairman of the committee investigating the 6 January attack on the US Capitol in the House have said that the lawmakers on the panel are duty-bound to submit any evidence of potential criminal activity uncovered by their investigation to the Justice Department, even if Republicans threaten retaliation.
Rep Bennie Thompson told ABC’s This Week on Sunday that the committee would not hesitate to refer allies of former President Donald Trump – including, potentially, members of Congress – to the Justice Department for prosecution should the panel uncover evidence of criminal acts having been committed.
His warning comes as political analysts have speculated that many in the GOP would use the power of the majority to retaliate against Democrats should the January 6 Committee take the step of referring Republican members of Congress to the DOJ for prosecution of their actions leading up to 6 January, even though no specific allegations of criminal activity have yet been made against sitting members of the House or Senate.
“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,” said Mr Thompson.
“We are not looking for it,” he added in the interview with ABC News. “But if we find it, we will absolutely make the referral.”
So far, the committee’s Democratic majority and two Republican members have been in lock step on the issue of referring persons to the DOJ for defying congressional subpoenas issued by the panel.
There’s no indication that would change should it come to the question of referring sitting members of Congress to the Justice Department for prosecution, as ranking member Rep Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, has repeatedly excoriated House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy over his continued political alliance with Mr Trump and saw herself ousted as chair of the House GOP conference for her public break with the party last year.
The panel’s investigation has uncovered a number of newsworthy revelations about the communications between members of Mr Trump’s inner circle and greater sphere of alliances in the hours leading up to and during the attack on the Capitol, but thus far has not led to any referrals for criminal prosecution beyond attempts to force witnesses into compliance with subpoenas.
Mr Thompson added on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that the panel was seeing significant evidence to suggest that the White House was well aware of the extent of the situation at the Capitol long before Mr Trump appeared on camera to tell his supporters to stand down.
“We have significant testimony that leads us to believe that the White House had been told to do something,” he said, adding that Mr Trump “did nothing during that time” to call off the mob.
Two former White House officials, Steve Bannon and former chief of staff Mark Meadows, now face the likelihood of criminal prosecution by the Justice Department for refusing to comply with the January 6 Committee’s request for documents as the former president’s attempts to assert executive privilege through the court system has yet to meet with any success.