Liz Cheney
Liz Cheney responds to NYT report on possible criminal referral for Trump
02:46 - Source: CNN

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CNN  — 

A CNN exclusive on Friday directly ties the former President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., to a concerted effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election even as votes were still being counted.

In text messages to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows days after the 2020 election, Trump Jr. lays out avenues around the election outcome.

The pieced-together narrative we’ve learned from the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection has long suggested former President Donald Trump and his supporters were actively trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election. These new developments – expect more to come – supercharge that narrative.

Many questions remain, not the least of which are:

  • Whether the committee will suggest charging either Trump or his closest advisers or family members with a crime.
  • Whether the Department of Justice would choose to prosecute such a crime.

What the House committee has

Rep. Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican who broke with her party to join the committee, said Sunday it was “absolutely clear” that Trump and a number of people around him knew their actions were “unlawful” but “did it anyway.”

“I think what we have seen is a massive and well-organized and well-planned effort that used multiple tools to try to overturn an election,” she told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

Cheney disputed that there is a divide in the committee over whether to recommend charges against the former President.

Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the other Republican member of the panel, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday evening that “this is a very united committee,” but signaled that a decision had not been made on a potential criminal referral.

“We may be able to do that. We may not. Really, we have no ability to say anything to DOJ that they’re not going to already see,” he said.

Judge open to challenge of Marjorie Taylor Greene’s candidacy

Meanwhile, there are other avenues for accountability. A federal judge in Georgia appears primed to allow a challenge to GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s candidacy for reelection.

Why? The 14th Amendment of the US Constitution prohibits officeholders from returning to elected positions if they supported an insurrection.

Note: A similar lawsuit against Rep. Madison Cawthorn, a North Carolina Republican, was thrown out. Read more from CNN’s Marshall Cohen.

What we know about what happens next

To find out what we know about what will happen next with the House committee and its investigation into January 6, I talked to Ryan Nobles, CNN’s congressional correspondent and one of the reporters who published the new details about Trump Jr.’s text messages. Our conversation, conducted by email and lightly edited, is below.

Will these new developments change minds?

WHAT MATTERS: Your reporting (with Zachary Cohen and Annie Grayer) changes the narrative of this story in a big way and directly implicates the President’s son: He was laying out ways to get around election results for the White House chief of staff. Is that evidence, which does not look good, likely to get more Republicans to take another look at the facts?

NOBLES: Color me skeptical that anything presented by the January 6 committee moves rank-and-file Republicans, specifically those who are die-hard supporters of President Trump. That said, the committee continues to uncover hard, indisputable evidence about the great lengths the former President and his political cronies went to try and prevent the 2020 election from being certified.

What is most remarkable about our reporting is the fact that we learned just how early these plans were being hatched. Donald Trump Jr. sent that text to Mark Meadows two days after the election, while votes were still being counted and before any of the major news networks had declared Joe Biden the winner.

The work the committee is doing may not be so much about convincing a wide swath of Republicans – it may be more about convincing Attorney General Merrick Garland that Trump’s plot amounts to a criminal conspiracy, worthy of an indictment. Which to this point, remains a hard sell.

When should we expect the endgame?

WHAT MATTERS: We’ve learned in dribs and drabs what the committee has been finding. What can we expect it to allege in its final report?

NOBLES: The committee has been reluctant to put a firm deadline on its work. It is generally accepted that it needs to wrap things up prior to the midterm elections. If Republicans win that election and take control of the House, the committee will either be shut down or its mission will be dramatically altered.

I think just based on my own read of its progress that we would expect a final report sometime after Labor Day and before Halloween – enough to make it part of the midterm election conversation, but far enough removed that it can stand on its own.

Before that comes though, we still expect a series of public, prime-time hearings, which promise to be explosive and feature witness testimony we have yet to hear.

As for what the final report will reveal: The committee has promised to author the definitive narrative of the events leading up to and on January 6. They plan to hire a professional writer who will craft the report and make it an accessible read, not a stuffy legal document. It will also contain legislative proposals to prevent something like this from happening again.

What the committee is still wrestling with is how it presents the information it has uncovered that may show a crime was committed.

Could the DOJ decide to do nothing?

WHAT MATTERS: What’s the likelihood the committee alleges a criminal conspiracy to overturn the election and the Justice Department decides to do nothing about it?

NOBLES: I think this remains the biggest open question and has been the biggest question since the committee was formed.

The committee could offer up a formal criminal referral to the Department of Justice. That carries no legal weight and could even backfire because it will be perceived as political.

Instead, it may just present the findings in the report and hope that Garland and the DOJ pick up the investigation from there.

There is a very real possibility Justice chooses not to act. There is not a lot of case law to guide a prosecution of this sort, and the laws regarding elections are murky when it comes to charging someone with a crime as it relates to attempting to prevent the certification of the vote.

We also do not know if the committee has found a definitive link between efforts to undermine the election and the violence on Capitol Hill on January 6.

There’s an election coming. We don’t know how this will affect it.

WHAT MATTERS: What role is the coming midterm elections playing in all of this?

NOBLES: It is twofold:

  1. It is the reason the committee has a shot clock. It can’t take the risk of Democrats losing the election and then the House committee losing its power as a result. The committee has to get the work done first.
  2. The second aspect is how this works to stir up the base on both sides.

We’ve already seen Republicans use the committee as a way to accuse the Democrats of waging a partisan witch hunt. Democrats have been less apt to draw January 6 into the election conversation, instead attempting to focus on the work they have done with domestic policy, specifically the trillion-dollar infrastructure bill.

The timing of the final report will be interesting. If it does deliver the hard, direct evidence that Trump and perhaps even some congressional Republicans played a direct role in inciting the violence on January 6, it could change the conversation.

However, if it falls flat and is left open to interpretation, or can be used in a misinformation campaign, that could help Republicans.

There is no doubt that its impact on the midterm elections could be momentous, but at the same time unpredictable.

What’s left to learn? A whole lot.

WHAT MATTERS: Is it your expectation that there are more facts we haven’t learned, like with the Donald Trump Jr. texts? Are there more bombshells to drop?

NOBLES: How many ways can I say, “yes”? I have been covering the January 6 investigation since January 7, 2021, and still feel like I have only scratched the surface of what the committee has likely uncovered.

Just the Meadows text messages alone are a treasure trove of information. Only about a couple dozen have been made public, and the committee has 4,000 of his texts in its possession.

The committee has also collected thousands of documents from the Trump archives and interviewed hundreds of witnesses who have firsthand perspective of the events leading up to and on January 6. There is so much we still have yet to learn.

This story has been updated with comments from Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.