US lawmakers mull calling for charges against 'unfit' Trump

The panel is expected to urge the Justice Dept to pursue the ex-president on at least three charges related to the violence — inciting an insurrection, obstructing an official proceeding and conspiring to defraud the country

By AFP

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Members of the US House Select Committee investigating the January 6 Attack on the US Capitol sit beneath an image showing a supporter of former US president Donald Trump wearing a MAGA hat using a police barrier to attempt to break into the US Capitol as the committee holds their final public meeting to release their report on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. — Reuters
Members of the US House Select Committee investigating the January 6 Attack on the US Capitol sit beneath an image showing a supporter of former US president Donald Trump wearing a MAGA hat using a police barrier to attempt to break into the US Capitol as the committee holds their final public meeting to release their report on Capitol Hill in Washington on Monday. — Reuters

Published: Mon 19 Dec 2022, 11:09 PM

Lawmakers probing last year's deadly assault on the US Capitol held a final public meeting on Monday that is expected to end in a vote on whether to recommend criminal charges against former president Donald Trump.

The decision will be the culmination of an 18-month probe by a House of Representatives select committee that interviewed more than 1,000 witnesses and held explosive public hearings on the storming of Congress on January 6, 2021.

At least five people died after a mob whipped up by Trump's false claims of a stolen election, and directed to march on Congress by the defeated president, ransacked the seat of US democracy in a thwarted bid to prevent the transfer of power to President Joe Biden.

The committee is expected to urge the Justice Department to pursue Trump on at least three charges related to the violence -- inciting an insurrection, obstructing an official proceeding and conspiring to defraud the United States.

Vice-chair Liz Cheney accused Trump of "a clear dereliction of duty" in failing to immediately attempt to stop the riot and called him "unfit for any office."

"No man who would behave that way at that moment in time can ever serve in any position of authority in our nation again," she said.

The referrals would be largely symbolic, as the panel has no control over charging decisions, which rest with the Justice Department.

Jack Smith, a largely independent special prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, is leading his own investigation into Trump related to the 2020 election.

But the lawmakers' move would nevertheless be historic, as Congress has never made a criminal referral against a sitting or former president.

It would also be a major blow to Trump amid a series of missteps in the weeks since he announced a comeback bid for the White House.

Charges could result in a ban from public office for the 76-year-old tycoon, who still wields considerable power in the Republican Party, and even prison time.

"To cast a vote in the United States is an act of faith and hope," committee chairman Bennie Thompson said.

"That faith in our system is the foundation of American democracy. If the faith is broken, so is our democracy. Donald Trump broke that faith."

The seven Democratic and two Republican panel members are winding down their work before the end of the year, and have compiled their findings into an eight-chapter report set to be released on Wednesday.

The executive summary is expected to be issued Monday.

The committee maintains that Trump "oversaw and coordinated a sophisticated seven-part plan to overturn the presidential election and prevent the transfer of presidential power."

Investigators say the plot began with Trump's campaign to spread allegations he knew were false that the election was marred by widespread fraud.

He is accused of trying to corrupt the Justice Department and of pressuring his vice president Mike Pence, as well as state election officials and legislators, to overturn the vote by violating the Constitution and the law.

Trump is also accused of summoning and assembling the mob in Washington, and directing it toward the Capitol despite knowing it was armed with assault rifles, handguns and numerous other weapons.

And he ignored pleas from his team to take action to stop the violence, lawmakers say.

The committee's case was bolstered by a federal judge in California who found it "more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6."

Lawmakers are also mulling criminal referrals of other figures in Trump's inner circle, including lawyer John Eastman, one of the architects of the defeated president's bid to cling to power.

"We're focused on key players... where there is sufficient evidence or abundant evidence that they committed crimes," committee member Jamie Raskin told reporters last week.

"And we're focused on crimes that go right to the heart of the constitutional order such that the Congress cannot remain silent."

Authorities say some 140 officers were assaulted during the riot. Around 900 people have been arrested on suspicion of taking part in the attack and more than 800 have been charged with crimes ranging from trespass and assaulting police to seditious conspiracy.

Trump has repeatedly disparaged the House panel on his own Truth Social platform, calling the members "Democrats, misfits and thugs."


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