Jun 14, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Raskin blames "semantic confusion" for divide over Jan. 6 criminal referrals

Jamie Raskin
Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the House Jan. 6 committee and a constitutional law expert, said Tuesday there's been "semantic confusion from the beginning" about the panel's authority to issue criminal referrals.

Why it matters: The committee has already laid out its view in court filings that former President Trump engaged in a "criminal conspiracy" to prevent Congress from certifying President Biden's election victory.

  • But Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) surprised reporters on Monday when he declared the committee wouldn't send criminal referrals to the Justice Department, saying it's "not our job."
  • Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and other members later clarified that the committee "has not issued a conclusion regarding potential criminal referrals," and Raskin himself said the decision likely wouldn't be made until the panel's final report comes out later this year.

Driving the news: "I, speaking as one member, have no doubt that there are" federal crimes that will feature in the final report, Raskin told Axios and others on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

  • "I'm not trying to be coy here," Raskin said. "If there's evidence of crimes that we think is relevant to our investigation, we will put it out there. But there's not a separate process for making criminal referrals to the Department of Justice."

Between the lines: Raskin said there's less a disagreement or "divide" among members of the committee than public confusion over what a criminal referral actually entails.

  • He explained the committee has made official criminal referrals for people held in "contempt of Congress" for defying subpoenas, such as former Trump officials Peter Navarro, Steve Bannon, Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino.
  • "There is a specific federal statute providing for congressional criminal referrals of contempt citations against people who violate our subpoenas. There is no general federal statute providing for ‘criminal referral’ to the Department of Justice by Congress," Raskin said.
  • "We do that with respect to criminal contempt, but there's not a generalized statute for Congress to be making."

The big picture: Raskin also shed light on how the committee is thinking about its final report, which is expected to lay out the detailed case against Trump and his team — as well as recommendations for preventing a Jan. 6-style incident from ever happening again.

  • “I, for one, don't want to insult the intelligence of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice by laying out an entire criminal indictment for them," Raskin said. "They know how to do their jobs, and they have access to information presumably that we don't have access to."
  • Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday that he and the federal prosecutors investigating Jan. 6 will be watching all of the committee's hearings.

Noting there's been a "bit of a confusion" regarding what the final report will look like, Raskin said it will not resemble the report former special counsel Robert Mueller issued following his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

  • "That's not what we're doing. We're making a report to the American people about what happened, why it happened, and how we need to protect ourselves in the future," he said.

What we noticed: Raskin was walking around the halls of Congress carrying a book titled, "How to Stop a Conspiracy: An Ancient Guide to Saving a Republic."

  • Raskin called it "an awesome book about the Catiline conspiracy" — an attempt to topple the elected leader of the Roman Republic in 63 BC, originally chronicled by historian Sallust.
  • "I'm getting ideas from wherever I can," Raskin joked.
Jamie Raskin carrying book
Photo: Alayna Treene/Axios
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