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Wednesday, April 24 2024

Multiple criminal referrals could follow Capitol Hill riots probe

Rep Lez Cheney
Photo Credit : Twitter

New York : The Senate House Committee probing ex-President Donald Trump’s alleged involvement in the Capitol Hills riots of January 6, 2021 or the “Insurrection”, could mark out multiple criminal referrals, including that of the former President, the panel’s vice-chair, Republican Liz Cheney, said in an interview broadcast on Sunday July 3.

“We’ll make a decision as a committee about it,” the Wyoming Republican told ABC News when asked about the prospect of referring Trump for prosecution and saying “yes” when asked whether a referral of Trump was possible.

“The Justice Department doesn’t have to wait for the committee to make a criminal referral, and there could be more than one criminal referral,” Cheney said.

The January 6 committee has been split on the issue of criminal referrals, even as members are in wide agreement that Trump committed a crime when he pushed conspiracies about the 2020 Presidential elections. Cheney said it is probable that the panel would take a stance on whether Trump should be prosecuted.

“We may well as a committee have a view on that,” she said, adding, “If you just think about it from the perspective of what kind of man knows that a mob is armed and sends the mob to attack the Capitol and forth incites that mob when his own vice-president is under threat?”

The US is ‘confronting a domestic threat’ in Donald Trump, Cheney said.

Her remarks came on the back of explosive testimony heard by the panel from a former top aide in White House, Cassidy Hutchinson, who recalled being told of Trump’s anger when informed by his Secret Service detail he couldn’t accompany protesters to the Capitol on January 6, according to CNN TV News network.

Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the other Republican serving on the January 6 committee besides Cheney, told CNN that Cassidy’s testimony had “been inspiring for a lot of people”, and that more witnesses have come forward since her explosive revelations last week.

“There will be way more information,” he said.

On the “State of the Union”, Kinzinger said he didn’t want to “get into who or any of those details” about potential new witnesses, but noted that “everyday we get new people who come forward” to the committee.

In her testimony, Hutchinson said she was told by former White House deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato that Trump tried to grab the steering wheel of the car and lunged at Secret Service agent Bobby Engel on January 6 when he was told they were going back to the West Wing and not to the Capitol. Since then, Hutchinson’s sworn testimony has been questioned by some Trump allies, not speaking under oath.

But two Secret Service sources told CNN that stories had circulated about the incident — including details that are similar to how Hutchinson described it to the January 6 committee.

The Secret Service has said the agents involved in the described incident, some of whom were already interviewed by the panel, will be made available to testify again under oath.

When asked if Ornato would testify before the committee, Kinzinger responded that “there’s information I can’t say yet”.

“But certainly, we could say that Cassidy Hutchinson has testified under oath. We find her credible and anybody that wants to disparage her… now that was a firsthand account… they should also come and testify under oath.”

“What she said is what she heard. At no point did she say she was in the Beast with the President and saw this happen,” Kinzinger pointed out, noting that no one has come forward to dispute the fact that Trump wanted to go to the Capitol on January 6.

Key points from the Jan 6 insurrection hearings

“It’s very chilling, and I think certainly we will continue to present to the American people what we’ve found,” Cheney recalled. She said the committee had evidence corroborating Trump’s fury at being told he couldn’t go to the Capitol on January 6.

“The committee has significant evidence on a whole range of issues, including the President’s intense anger,” she said, adding, “You will continue to see in coming days and weeks additional detail about the President’s activities and behaviour on that day.”

What the criminal referral could look like?

California Democrat Adam Schiff, who also serves on the January 6 panel, told CBS on Sunday that he believes there is evidence that Trump “engaged in multiple violations of the law and that should be investigated”.

Cheney, who has experienced significant blowback from fellow Republicans for her denunciations of Trump and her role leading the investigation into the January 6 riots, insisted the proceedings are not meant to politically disqualify Trump from running for President again.

Instead, the hearing is meant to give the American people an account of what happened that day, even as she acknowledged there wasn’t a “single thing” she’s learned that made her less concerned about Trump returning to the White House.

“A man as dangerous as Donald Trump can absolutely never be anywhere near the Oval Office ever again,” she had said.

CNN had previously reported that Trump is anxiously mulling when, exactly, he should announce a 2024 presidential run — a decision that has become even more pressing as he tries to reclaim control of his image following the spate of damaging revelations by the January 6 committee.

Cheney, fighting for political survival, seeks crossover support from Wyoming Democrats.

Cheney, who is facing an uphill climb in her bid for reelection in Wyoming, said the Republican Party would not survive if Trump is selected as the GOP presidential nominee in 2024. While she refused to rule out a presidential bid of her own, she said her focus is currently elsewhere.

“I haven’t made a decision about that yet, and I’m obviously very focused on my reelection, I’m very focused on the January 6 committee, I’m very focused on my obligations to do the job I have now. And I’ll make a decision about ’24 down the road,” she said.

Schiff predicts how the next hearing could play

Schiff said on Sunday the committee’s next hearing will focus on connections between the Trump White House and various organisations that were present at Trump’s January 6 rally in Washington ahead of the attack on the Capitol.

“Our very next hearing will be focused on the efforts to assemble that mob on the mall,” the California Democrat said, adding, “Who was participating, who was financing it, how it was organised, including the participation of these White nationalist groups like the ‘Proud Boys’, the ‘Three Percenters’ and others.”

The select committee has not announced a date for future hearings, and Schiff did not offer any further information on dates or potential witnesses.

The Congressman said this on Sunday during an appearance on CBS News’ ‘Face the Nation’, setting the stage for the second month of the panel’s summer hearing slate.

“And so, we’ll be presenting the information we have. We haven’t answered all the questions that we have. We continue our investigation into precisely the issue you’re describing,” he said, adding the panel held six hearings last month, and more are expected after Independence Day in July.

Who are the ‘Proud Boys’ at the centre of the Capitol Hill riots? The Proud Boys describe themselves as a “pro-Western fraternal organisation for men who refuse to apologise for creating the modern world”.

The Oath Keepers is a loosely organised group largely composed of former law enforcement and military personnel, according to the Justice Department.

Prosecutors have hit members of both groups with seditious conspiracy and other charges for their actions surrounding the Capitol riots. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chairman of the January 6 committee, had indicated in June that investigators have evidence to show the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers were in contact with members of Trump’s inner circle.

By Ashok Nilakantan

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