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A member of the Jan. 6 committee on its final hearing

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

After more than a year, the House select committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol held its final meeting today and voted unanimously to refer former President Trump for criminal charges.

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JAMIE RASKIN: We understand the gravity of each and every referral we are making today, just as we understand the magnitude of the crime against democracy that we describe in our report. But we have gone where the facts and the law lead us, and inescapably, they lead us here.

KELLY: That is Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat from Maryland. Today, he and other members of the committee made their final case for why they believe Trump should be held accountable for January 6. Here's Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

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LIZ CHENEY: Every president in our history has defended this orderly transfer of authority except one. January 6, 2021 was the first time one American president refused his constitutional duty to transfer power peacefully to the next.

KELLY: The committee is recommending that Trump be charged with four crimes - inciting or assisting an insurrection, obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress, conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to make a false statement.

Joining me now is Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat from California and another member of the committee. Congressman, welcome back.

ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you. It's great to be with you.

KELLY: Start with the fact that these are referrals from your committee, recommendations for the Department of Justice to do something but not binding. What is their value?

SCHIFF: I think the value is twofold. The value is we're setting out to the department just what crimes we believe were committed and the evidence that supports those crimes. And importantly, we are providing both to the department and to the public that voluminous evidence. I also think it's an important feature of accountability. That is, we have informed the country that in the view of Congress, the former president has committed multiple crimes. And that, I think, brings about a certain accountability. The attorney general promised at the initiation of his own investigation that he would follow the evidence where it leads, that there would be only one standard of the rule of law for the powerful and for the less powerful or not powerful at all. And by making our analysis public, it helps to hold the Justice Department to that standard.

KELLY: So understanding you have no control over what the Justice Department does next, it sounds like it's your personal hope that prosecutors there will find the evidence compelling enough to bring charges.

SCHIFF: I'm deeply concerned that if the department were to decide that, notwithstanding the evidence - and I do think the evidence is sufficient to charge the former president. But let's say they decide that notwithstanding that, that it's too controversial, that it would be too disruptive to charge a former president, that his supporters would be upset. Well, then the president becomes above the law. And that is an idea that the founders would have found unacceptable and extraordinarily dangerous. So, yes, I hope the department will apply the same rule of law to Donald Trump that it would to you or I or anyone listening. And I think if they do, it will result in charges against him.

KELLY: What about all the others? I mean, the big headline today is these four criminal referrals for Trump. But aside from him, why so few referrals for Trump allies? - because you interviewed a lot of folks, and I have to wonder if the limited scope perhaps speaks to the constraints your panel faced.

SCHIFF: You know, we did mention others that we believe also may have committed criminal offenses.

KELLY: A couple others - two lawyers, yep.

SCHIFF: Yes. And we also made it clear that the Justice Department is in the possession of evidence that we are not in possession of. So they may have a basis to charge other individuals. We didn't, of course, set out, you know, the hundreds of people who attacked the Capitol that day. But we wanted to put our emphasis on, frankly, the ringleader, the one that was preeminently responsible for that attack. And we also felt the evidence against the former president was perhaps the strongest evidence as to any of these potential criminal defendants.

KELLY: We have been speaking about what the legal path forward might look like, the legal considerations in play. Let me turn you to the political considerations. Is anything that the committee recommended today aimed at making it more difficult for Donald Trump to run, to win in 2024?

SCHIFF: That's really not our goal or our responsibility. We certainly hope that people followed the hearings and saw, as our vice chair said today, just how unfit for office Donald Trump is.

KELLY: This was Liz Cheney speaking today saying he should never, ever serve in any position of authority in our nation again.

SCHIFF: Yes. And, you know, watching the evidence, seeing evidence, for example, of the president on January 6, he was told that thousands of people won't go through the metal detectors because they have weapons and they don't want the weapons taken away. And his answer is well, then take down the effing (ph) mags, take down the metal detectors. They're not here to hurt me. He wants this armed crowd to march on the Capitol. He wants to go with them in the march. He's indignant when he can't go.

And when that mob descends on the Capitol and beats and gouges police officers, he watches it all on the TV from the White House dining room and does nothing, won't lift a finger, won't call anyone to bring it to an end. And someone like that just is fundamentally unfit, someone who is that willing to be derelict in their responsibility. So, yes, you know, it's important information for the public, but our primary responsibility is protecting the Constitution and our democracy. And our recommendations - which are getting a lot less attention than our referrals because they're going to come out in a few days - are going to be pivotal to protecting our democracy going forward.

KELLY: Stay with the point you were just about to make, I think, Congressman Schiff. After all is said and done, are you confident that January 6 or anything close to January 6 won't happen again, that enough has been done to safeguard our democracy?

SCHIFF: No, I don't think enough has been done yet. We have had the accounting. That is, we've had the public presentation of a large part of the evidence. What we haven't done yet is had the justice that I think needs to be meted out, and we haven't had the reform that needs to take place to protect our country going forward. Now, we may get a bit of that reform done in the next few days if we pass changes to the Electoral Count Act that governs the procedures, what happens in that joint session of Congress. But that's really only one of the many steps that need to be taken to protect our democracy.

Much like the 9/11 Commission when it issued its report, its work wasn't done. It wasn't really done until its recommendations were made law. Similarly, here, we need to take steps to make it far more difficult for any other demagogue to engage in such destructive conduct.

KELLY: Oh. In the few seconds we have left, let me turn you to your fellow lawmakers. The decision was announced today to refer members of Congress who ignored congressional subpoenas - to refer them to the House Ethics Committee. What would constitute a satisfactory outcome there?

SCHIFF: Well, we made that judgment, I think, on the basis of two facts. One is we were batting only about 50% in referring matters to the Justice Department involving people who were in contempt of Congress. So that was a very imperfect remedy. But more than that, we also felt we needed to police ourselves; that if members of Congress weren't living up to the - their oath or to lawful process, that Congress ought to take care of that as a matter for the Ethics Committee. That committee in the new Congress, like in the current Congress, will be equally divided between the parties. We have to hope that they will do their job objectively because these lawmakers have been held wanting when it comes to fulfilling their oath of office.

KELLY: Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat from California, thank you so much.

SCHIFF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.