Multiple criminal referrals of Trump possible, Cheney says

Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford
From left: Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Callif.; Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss, and Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., during the House Jan. 6 select committee public hearing on Capitol Hill.

WASHINGTON – The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection could make multiple criminal referrals to the Justice Department of former president Donald Trump over his role in the U.S. Capitol attack, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the committee’s vice chair, said in an interview that aired Sunday.

“The Justice Department doesn’t have to wait for the committee to make a criminal referral,” Cheney said on ABC’s “This Week.” “And there could be more than one criminal referral.”

Cheney emphasized that the committee’s aims were not political, but also that the Justice Department should not refrain from prosecuting Trump out of concerns about political optics if the evidence warrants criminal prosecution.

“I think it’s a much graver constitutional threat if a president can engage in these kinds of activities, and the majority of the president’s party looks away, or we as a country decide we’re not actually going to take our constitutional obligations seriously,” Cheney said.

Cheney went on to express grave concerns about the idea of Trump running as the GOP presidential nominee for a third time.

“I think there’s no question, I mean, a man as dangerous as Donald Trump can absolutely never be anywhere near the Oval Office ever again,” Cheney said.

The Republican Party, she said, could not survive if Trump were its 2024 presidential nominee.

“Millions of people, millions of Republicans have been betrayed by Donald Trump. And that is a really painful thing for people to recognize and to admit, but it’s absolutely the case,” Cheney said. “And they’ve been betrayed by him, by the big lie, and by what he continues to do and say to tear apart our country and tear apart our party.”

The interview was Cheney’s first since the Jan. 6 committee began holding public hearings, and it was taped days after Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, gave bombshell testimony about Trump’s actions – and inaction – on the day of the Capitol attack.

Hutchinson testified last week that Trump knew that some of his supporters were armed but urged them to march on the Capitol anyway, and that he was reportedly indifferent to the mob’s threats to hang Vice President Mike Pence.

“What kind of man knows that a mob is armed and sends the mob to attack the Capitol and further incites that mob when his own vice president is under threat? When the Congress is under threat?” Cheney said. “It’s very chilling.”

Trump and his allies have since sought to discredit Hutchinson, but Cheney said she was “absolutely confident” in the former White House aide’s testimony. Hutchinson also testified last week that Trump was “irate” when he was told he would not be able to travel to the Capitol with his supporters after his speech on the Ellipse, and that she was told Trump lunged at his security detail in anger while inside the presidential limousine.

When asked if the committee had additional evidence to corroborate Hutchinson’s testimony, Cheney said the committee had “significant evidence about a whole range of issues, including the president’s intense anger” inside the presidential limo. Cheney pointedly suggested that anyone who was denying Hutchinson’s version of events testify before the committee under oath as well.

“What Cassidy Hutchinson did was an unbelievable example of bravery and courage and patriotism in the face of real pressure,” Cheney said. “The committee is not going to stand by and watch her character be assassinated by anonymous sources and by men who are claiming executive privilege.”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., the only other GOP member on the Jan. 6 committee, told CNN’s “State of the Union” that more witnesses have come forward since the hearings began, including since Hutchinson testified.

“I don’t want to get into who, or any details,” Kinzinger said. “Every day we get new people that come forward and say, ‘Hey, I didn’t think maybe this piece of a story that I knew was important.'”

The Jan. 6 committee had already interviewed two people who were inside the presidential limo at the time of Trump’s reported outburst: Robert Engel, former head of Trump’s Secret Service detail, and Anthony Ornato, who coordinated physical security at the White House.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a member of the Jan. 6 committee, said Ornato’s memory “does not appear to be as precise” as Hutchinson’s but hesitated when asked whether Ornato had given his testimony to the committee under oath.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., another member of the Jan. 6 committee, said Sunday that he could not go into detail about what Engel and Ornato had previously shared with the committee but that committee members would be interested in having the two men return to “shed light” on what happened inside the presidential limo.

The committee, he added, was also “in discussions” with lawyers for Pat Cipollone, former White House counsel, whom the committee has interviewed before but would like to bring back for further testimony. Hutchinson testified last week that Cipollone had warned of the legal risks for Trump if he were to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“But the most important thing is: There doesn’t appear to be any dispute over the fact the president was furious that he could not accompany this armed mob to the Capitol,” Schiff said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “That doesn’t seem to be disputed by anyone except Donald Trump, who has, as we’ve seen in the past, no credibility at all.”

Schiff said he agreed with Cheney that there could be multiple criminal referrals made of Trump to the Justice Department and that it would do far more damage to the country if Trump were not investigated out of a concern for further political division.

Schiff warned that if the Justice Department were to take the position that it could not investigate or indict a former president, that would elevate Trump to become someone who is above the law.

“That’s a very dangerous idea that the Founders would have never subscribed to – even more dangerous, I think, in the case of Donald Trump,” Schiff said. “Donald Trump is someone who has shown, when he’s not held accountable, he goes on to commit worse and worse abuses of power.”

The Jan. 6 committee is continuing to explore any connections between the Trump White House and far-right white nationalist groups that participated in the Capitol attack, he said.

“Our next hearing will be focused on the efforts to assemble that mob on the [National] Mall: Who was participating, who was financing it, how it was organized, including the participation of these white nationalist groups like the Proud Boys and Three Percenters and others,” Schiff said. “I think we’ve gotten some answers, but there’s still a great deal we don’t know that we’re going to find out.”