Trump Referrals May Have 'Zero' Effect on DOJ

Justice Department is far more interested in the panel's evidence than its opinions
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 20, 2022 6:20 AM CST
Most Serious Case Against Trump Is Hardest to Prove
Former President Trump speaks to guests at Mar-a-lago on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Palm Beach, Fla.   (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

The Jan. 6 panel took the unprecedented act of making criminal referrals against former President Trump to the Justice Department on Monday. So now what? Some assessments:

  • Little effect? The DOJ is under no obligation to charge Trump just because the congressional panel suggested it should. “I think a referral will have zero practical effect on what DOJ does,” Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor, tells Politico. “They are already investigating, and they’re not going to decide whether or not to charge based on whether they got a referral from Congress.” The story notes that prosecutors will be far more interested in the evidence gathered by the panel (interviews, etc.) than with the referrals.

  • Pressure: Still, this ramps up pressure on the DOJ, writes columnist Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post. "If special counsel Jack Smith decides not to indict Trump, he will have to explain why his judgment differs from that of a congressional committee that painstakingly examined the evidence and presented it to the American people."
  • The referrals: The AP details the four referrals against Trump: obstruction of an official proceeding; conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to make a false statement; and inciting or aiding an insurrection. It notes that the latter involves not just Trump's alleged actions but his inaction as well in waiting hours to tell the protesters to go home.
  • Most serious: The most serious one against Trump, insurrection, would also be the most difficult to prove, writes Alan Feuer in a New York Times analysis. The DOJ has not charged anyone with insurrection in more than 900 criminal cases related to the riot, though it has won a conviction on a related charge of seditious conspiracy. However, a federal judge ruled in February that a reasonable case could be made that Trump "aided and abetted" the Jan. 6 mob, writes Feuer. For example, he told supporters just before the riot to march on the Capitol and "fight like hell" in a speech.
  • Stay tuned: Don't expect the DOJ to publicly reveal in which direction it's leaning as its own investigation unfolds, per NPR. Typically, the department says nothing about cases until they are presented in court.
(More Donald Trump stories.)

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