The debate dividing the January 6 committee

“The committee can’t actually file charges against anyone, but they can recommend that the Justice Department do so, with a criminal referral. The House has already approved four such referrals from the committee — of Steve Bannon, Mark Meadows, Dan Scavino, and Peter Navarro — for contempt of Congress. (All four aides refused to turn over some or all records to the committee.)

Panel leaders have been open that they’re assessing whether Trump violated the law, too, and they’ve argued he may have done so in court. Many anticipated that the committee would eventually put forward a referral for the former president.

But committee members like Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) downplayed the importance of such a move in these recent stories. “A referral doesn’t mean anything,” Lofgren told Politico.

In practical terms, Lofgren has a point. Once receiving a referral recommending charges against someone, the DOJ is under no obligation to follow through and charge them, and often the agency doesn’t.

Yet the question of whether Trump should be referred for prosecution does touch on broader questions of what exactly the committee is trying to achieve, and how Democrats (and Trump’s few Republican critics) are struggling to ensure the former president faces consequences for his attempted election theft.

Should the committee’s top priority be to make a maximal political splash, discrediting Trump in the eyes of the public? Or should they focus on trying to help a criminal indictment against Trump actually happen, and to make that case as strong as possible?

Is their audience the public, or is it Attorney General Merrick Garland?

And which strategy will best achieve those aims — if achieving them is even possible?”

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