How Trump is likely to be haunted by Jan. 6 panel long after its exit

The House committee that has caused former President Trump problems for much of the past year delivered one more direct blow on Monday as it accused him of four specific crimes and referred him to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.

The panel established to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol is about to exit the national stage, with Republicans taking over the House and the committee’s two GOP members — Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) — leaving Congress altogether.

But the committee’s recommendations of charges for Trump mean it will haunt the former president as he tries to embark on a new campaign to win the White House.

Attention will now swing from Congress to the Department of Justice, which must make decisions on whether to proceed with the high-profile panel’s recommendation even as it conducts its own investigations under the leadership of a special counsel.

Sources close to Trump, who launched a new White House bid less than a week after the midterm elections, ultimately don’t believe his support will erode because of the panel, arguing that public views on Jan. 6 are already entrenched and the committee’s makeup — seven Democrats and two Republican Trump critics — will do little to change minds.

Yet Trump is unlikely to be fully free of the panel’s findings and its influence in the months until the Department of Justice concludes its work.

In public, Trump allies responded with a mix of anger, glee and snark as the Jan. 6 panel concluded its final meeting before being disbanded under a GOP-led House.

“The sham unselect committee has adjourned today, not because the investigation reached any valid legal conclusion, but because Democrats were voted out of power by the American people. Thankfully, this marks the end of the reign of [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] and the Democrats—good riddance!” tweeted Taylor Budowich, head of the Trump-aligned MAGA Inc. super PAC.

Steven Cheung, a former Trump White House official who is reportedly working on the 2024 campaign, argued the criminal referrals amounted to the panel carrying water for Democrats who wanted to see Trump disqualified from running for office.

The panel recommended that Justice investigate the former president on four charges: inciting an insurrection, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to make a false statement and obstruction of an official proceeding.

“If the evidence is as we presented it, I’m convinced the Justice Department will charge former President Trump. No one, including a former president, is above the law,” Thompson said in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper moments after the panel’s final public meeting.

Former President Donald Trump on Nov. 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

The House committee has created headaches for Trump throughout the past year, as its public hearings produced new revelations about how many aides told him there was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election, about the degree to which he pressured officials to find examples of fraud, about the fringe voices he brought into the White House, and about his inaction as a mob stormed the Capitol to try and stop the certification of now-President Biden’s win.

Trump has shrugged off each new revelation, claiming he did not know witnesses who worked in his White House or dismissing it as a partisan exercise. 

The criminal referrals represent a different kind of threat to Trump, however, as he heads into 2023 facing numerous political and legal challenges.

The Justice Department will have the evidence compiled by the House committee and presented in public view, as well as potential evidence it has collected that is not in the public domain as it reviews potential charges against Trump.

That process could be drawn out well into the 2024 GOP primary cycle, hanging over Trump and forcing voters to weigh whether to support a candidate who could be indicted during the campaign.

The panel’s effect on Trump’s 2024 White House bid, which he announced in mid-November, can already be seen in some polls.

A June NBC News poll found 45 percent of respondents viewed Trump as “solely” or “mainly” responsible for the riots on Jan. 6.

An NPR-Marist-PBS Newshour poll in July found 57 percent of those polled believe Trump is to blame for the riots.

A Quinnipiac University Poll survey released last week found 64 percent of respondents believe Trump bears a lot or some responsibility for the storming of the Capitol, and 47 percent believe he committed a crime related to Jan. 6.

And while the divide in polling largely falls along partisan lines, with Republicans opposing charges for Trump and Democrats supporting them, they underscore the degree to which the panel has hardened views about Trump that could make some in the GOP or Republican-leaning independents reluctant to put him on the ballot for a third time.

A Republican-led House likely means the attention will shift away from Trump and Jan. 6 and eliminate a key messaging platform for Democrats and critics of the former president. 

But at least two members of the House committee have already made clear they will make stopping Trump a central focus now that the panel’s work has concluded.

Kinzinger opted not to run for reelection, but he is likely to remain in the public eye through his newly founded group, Country First, which aims to close the partisan gap. Kinzinger also penned an op-ed in the aftermath of November’s midterms arguing Americans must reject Trump in 2024. He wrote that Trump’s reelection “could further erode American democracy, potentially rendering it irredeemable.”

Similarly, Cheney is ceding a megaphone to go after Trump with the conclusion of the Jan. 6 committee’s work, and she will no longer be a member of Congress come January after losing a primary to a Trump-backed challenger.

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), one of two Republicans on the House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, attends the panel's final meeting.

Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) attends the panel’s final meeting. (Greg Nash)

But Cheney has made it clear that when the panel’s work ends, her efforts to keep Trump out of office will go on, even if it means mulling a third-party bid of her own in 2024.

In Monday’s hearing, Cheney used her opening statement to remind viewers that not only did Trump lay the foundation for Jan. 6 through his repeated false claims about the 2020 election, but that he waited for hours to intervene as the riot unfolded despite pleas from his advisers to do so.

“No man who would behave that way at that moment in time can ever serve in any position of authority in our nation again,” Cheney said. “He is unfit for any office.”

Tags Adam Kinzinger Department of Justice Donald Trump Jan. 6 attack Jan. 6 panel Liz Cheney

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