The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol will issue criminal referrals to the Justice Department based on its inquiry, the panel’s chairman said on Tuesday, but has made no decision on who it will recommend charging or what offenses it will cite.
Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the Democratic chairman of the committee, told reporters on Capitol Hill that the panel had agreed to take the step and would meet later Tuesday to discuss the specifics. But within moments, he and his staff rushed to clarify his statement, reflecting a debate that is still underway within the panel about how far to go in formally accusing former President Donald J. Trump and some of his top allies of crimes.
“What we’ve decided is that we will probably make referrals,” Mr. Thompson told reporters a short time later.
Mr. Thompson, who is known for giving big-picture guidance about the investigation but being at times less involved in the granular details of its work, then suggested that that decision was no longer in question.
“There’s a general agreement we will do some referrals, but we’ve got to get there,” Mr. Thompson said. “We’re not there yet.”
Understand the Events on Jan. 6
- Timeline: On Jan. 6, 2021, 64 days after Election Day 2020, a mob of supporters of President Donald J. Trump raided the Capitol. Here is a close look at how the attack unfolded.
- A Day of Rage: Using thousands of videos and police radio communications, a Times investigation reconstructed in detail what happened — and why.
- Lost Lives: A bipartisan Senate report found that at least seven people died in connection with the attack.
- Jan. 6 Attendees: To many of those who attended the Trump rally but never breached the Capitol, that date wasn’t a dark day for the nation. It was a new start.
His comments came before the committee had taken any formal action on the issue, likely reflecting the kind of informal consensus among members of the committee that has typically driven their major decisions.
The remarks came as the panel is laboring to finish a detailed accounting of its investigation and findings in the waning days of its existence in a Democratic-controlled House, before Republicans take power in January. Representative Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican working to become the next House speaker, has already warned the committee to preserve its records in anticipation of not only ending the inquiry, but investigating its work in a bid to undermine its findings.
The panel has grappled for about a year with the issue of whether to make criminal referrals, delaying a decision until after the work of the investigation had concluded. The committee finished its final interviews with witnesses last week.
A subcommittee of four lawyers on the committee — Representatives Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming; Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland; Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California; and Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California — has studied whether to issue criminal referrals to the Justice Department for Mr. Trump or others, and was planning to brief colleagues on the group’s recommendations.
Among the potential charges they have considered recommending are conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress.
A criminal referral would carry no legal weight, but it would be a symbolic act by the panel to put forth an official finding that it believes a crime or crimes were committed, even though Congress has no power to charge or prosecute them.
Even so, several people familiar with the committee’s work said Mr. Thompson’s comments were premature.
“We will make an announcement when we have an announcement,” Ms. Lofgren told reporters.
In a statement released after Mr. Thompson’s initial remarks, a spokesman for the committee said: “The committee has determined that referrals to outside entities should be considered as a final part of its work. The committee will make decisions about specifics in the days ahead.”
The panel also is considering using the information it uncovered about how Mr. Trump and his allies raised money by promoting baseless assertions about election fraud to make a referral to the Federal Election Commission, a largely toothless body that is charged with enforcing campaign finance laws.
Emily Cochrane and Stephanie Lai contributed reporting.