Senate Republicans are moving away from a January 6 House committee recommendation that the Justice Department prosecute former President Trump for crimes related to the 2021 attack on the US Capitol.
GOP senators, especially those associated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), say the Jan. 6 committee interviewed “credible” witnesses and added to the historical record in a substantial way, even though they have doubts about how the Democrats acted. tried to use the panel’s findings to score political points.
Now they say it’s up to Attorney General Merrick Garland or Justice Department special counsel Jack Smith to investigate or charge Trump, but they’re not stopping federal prosecutors from prosecuting the former president.
“The whole nation knows who is responsible for that day,” McConnell said in a statement, pointing the finger at Trump in response to the House 6 committee referring four criminal charges against Trump to the Justice Department.
It was McConnell’s strongest statement blaming Trump for inciting a mob to storm the Capitol on January 6, 2021, since he denounced him on the Senate floor in February of that year.
“The people who stormed this building thought they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president,” he said in February 2021 after voting on technical grounds to acquit Trump during his second impeachment trial.
Senate Minority Whip John Thune (RS.D.) said, “It’s up to justice now.”
Asked if he thought the commission conducted a credible investigation of Trump, Thune replied, “They interviewed some credible witnesses.”
Thune said the panel’s composition was partisan because it consisted of seven Democrats and only two anti-Trump Republicans, but he acknowledged, “They interviewed a lot of people who had a lot of knowledge about what was happening and they were people who I think were very credible.”
Outgoing Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a member of McConnell’s leadership team, said the committee’s final report, due to be made public Wednesday, Jan. 6, is “important.”
“I think the references are not as important as the report. The report is important, even if it came out of a process of partiality,” he said.
“But the testimony is the testimony, and they were able to get the testimony of most of the people they wanted — not everyone, but most of them — and I think most of the significant figures. That’s the historical record,” Portman explained. “That’s really important.”
The Jan. 6 panel on Monday made four criminal references alleging that Trump had incited insurrection, obstructed official Congressional proceedings, conspired to defraud the United States and conspired to make a false statement.
The references do not require the Justice Department to bring criminal charges against the former president, but they put more pressure on federal prosecutors to act.
The panel also recommended to the House Ethics Committee that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and several allies — Representatives Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) — and what they did leading up to and on the day of the attack on the Capitol.
House Republicans are expected to dismantle the Jan. 6 panel after taking control of the chamber in January.
Trump shrugged off the criminal references in a statement on Truth Social, his social media platform.
“These people don’t understand that when they come after me, people who love freedom gather around me. It strengthens me. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” he wrote.
Trump has announced a new bid for the White House, but it’s been clear for weeks amid a string of controversies surrounding Trump and a disappointing outcome of the GOP midterm elections that a number of Republican senators would prefer to move away from the former president.
Only one Republican senator, Senator Tommy Tuberville (Ala.), has publicly endorsed Trump’s 2024 presidential bid.
Others have raised concerns about Trump’s viability in the 2024 general election or blamed him for derailing their chances of winning key Senate races in Pennsylvania and Georgia this year.
Republican senators who spoke to the media on Monday did not embrace the January 6 panel in any way, but most did not embrace Trump.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), another member of the Senate Republican leadership team, said she thought the Jan. 6 committee investigation “was a political process” and that she had “never seen Congress to the Justice Department prosecute anyone for.
But she added that Trump “bears some responsibility” for the attack on the US Capitol.
“I don’t see this changing anything. Let’s get the electoral bill passed. That will clear up some of the ambiguity that arose that day,” she said, referring to legislation the Senate will pass this week to clarify that the vice president has an exclusively ministerial role when Congress meets in joint session to pass the results of a presidential election.
The bill is designed to eliminate the possibility of a future president trying to get the vice president to throw out voter rolls when he presides over a joint session of Congress, as Trump pressured the then-vice president on January 6 Mike Pence.
McConnell, Thune, Portman and Capito all voted to acquit Trump after his second impeachment trial, when he was charged with inciting insurrection.
However, many Senate Republicans voted that way for technical reasons because Trump was no longer in office at the time of the trial.
Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who voted to convict Trump in both of his impeachment proceedings, said: “There is no question that President Trump deserves the blame for inciting the Jan. 6 riot and for failing to act to prevent the to protect vice. president and the United States Capitol.”
“Whether there are criminal charges involved should be determined by experienced prosecutors, which is what the Justice Department will determine,” he said.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who also voted to impeach Trump, said he would leave it to federal prosecutors to decide what to do.
“I am not a lawyer and certainly not a prosecutor,” he said, adding that he was not surprised at the recommendation to prosecute.
“I don’t know the legal basis for it, but you know what I think about what the president did that day,” he said.
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, said she was not surprised by the House committee’s criminal referral.
“It is clear that they have spent a lot of time and effort [went into] for many months they have investigated this in great detail,” she said. “It’s really on [the Department of Justice] where they go next.”
“I think it will be important for us to read this report that comes out on Wednesday,” she said.
When asked about McConnell’s statement that the entire nation knows that Trump is responsible for the January 6 attack, Murkowski replied, “I agree. I voted to impeach him.”