To finalize a presidential election, Congress meets in a joint session to certify states’ Electoral College votes, a largely ceremonial — but necessary — step. On January 6, 2021, as Congress met for this purpose, a group of protestors supporting then-President Trump arrived at the Capitol following a rally outside the White House. The protest devolved into a contentious break-in, resulting in damages and the death of Ashli Babbitt. In June 2021, the House of Representatives established a special panel to investigate these events in a largely party-line vote, with only two Republicans supporting the resolution — Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). Now, Cheney and Kinzinger are the only two Republicans that sit on the nine-member committee. Many on the Right have criticized the panel for this makeup, claiming it is engaged in a partisan smear campaign against Trump. Democrats argue the committee is necessary to create a full public account of January 6 and reveal potentially illegal conduct, especially by administration officials.
On Wednesday, the Democrat-led committee claimed it has evidence that Trump and his associates engaged in a “criminal conspiracy” to prevent Congress from certifying his loss in the 2020 election. This claim is the panel’s most direct allegation so far that Trump might have engaged in illegal conduct. They outline three specific laws they feel Trump and his allies may have violated:
- Obstruction of an Official Proceeding — Avoiding, evading, preventing, or obstructing any civil investigative demand made under the Antitrust Civil Process Act. In this case, the committee argues Trump and his associates actively worked to interfere with Congress’ certification of the 2020 election.
- Defrauding the United States — To cheat the Government out of property or money, or to interfere with or obstruct one of its lawful governmental functions (certification of the election) by deceit, craft, or trickery, or at least by means that are dishonest.
- D.C. Common Fraud Law — Engaging in a scheme or systematic course of conduct with intent to defraud or to obtain the property of another by means of a false or fraudulent pretense. Here, fraud references Trump’s claims that Democrats stole the 2020 election.
Trump has denied any legal responsibility for the events.
The committee made the statement in a filing to a federal district court as part of an ongoing lawsuit to secure documents from former law professor John Eastman, who allegedly laid out a plan to block Congress’ certification of the election. In a memo, Eastman outlined a six-step process for then-Vice President Pence to throw out the electoral votes in several swing states without congressional consent, calling him the “ultimate arbiter.” Ultimately, Pence rejected that legal theory, saying he did not hold “unilateral authority” to discard those votes. The panel subpoenaed documents from Eastman in November 2021, but he has resisted those efforts, claiming the materials are protected by attorney-client privilege. The committee’s Wednesday filing argues that Trump and Eastman voided that protection by discussing future illegal acts.
The committee has heard testimony from hundreds of people, including top officials from the Trump administration. However, the court filing is not an indictment and does not charge Trump with any crime. The panel is not conducting a criminal investigation, as lawmakers do not have the power to bring criminal charges against someone; they can only refer the matter to the U.S. Justice Department. While the Department is investigating the events of January 6, it has not revealed whether it is seeking charges against Trump or his allies.
As the January 6 committee works diligently to uncover the truth about the deadly riots, top players in the plot to overturn the election like John Eastman try to give the panel the slip by pleading the Fifth (nearly 150 times) and making broad claims of attorney-client privilege. He and other top Republican officials have repeatedly tried to undermine the House panel’s credibility, labeling it a “partisan scam.” The real partisan scam is Republicans’ attempts to cover up for Donald Trump and his cronies, who spread lies about widespread fraud, despite his own administration officials calling it “the most secure election in history.” Trump and his allies made countless attempts to overturn his loss, including their illegal campaign to interfere in the certification process. It is no surprise that this amounts to “criminal conspiracy,” and the Justice Department should charge all of these individuals to the fullest extent of the law.
In a completely unsurprising move, Democrats find Trump to be a very bad man. Just like the ridiculous impeachment charges, the findings of the January 6 committee are meaningless and will not stand. The committee’s partisan political persecution is a disgrace and should focus on the real players of January 6, like Ray Epps. As well, Eastman’s attorney said his client has a responsibility “to protect client confidences, even at great personal risk and expense. The Select Committee has discharged this responsibility by accusing him of criminal activity.” The select committee is trying to gather privileged materials in a gross violation of constitutional norms and basic legal principles.