Jan. 6 panel may not issue criminal referral against Trump despite 'credible evidence of criminal conduct': committee
US President Donald Trump (AFP)

Lawmakers on the House select committee are increasingly skeptical of the need to make a criminal referral against former president Donald Trump.

The Justice Department is already aware of the evidence congressional investigators have uncovered about Trump's role in the Jan. 6 insurrection, which a federal judge ruled last week showed the twice-impeached former president “more likely than not” broke multiple laws trying to overturn his election loss, reported Politico.

“A referral doesn’t mean anything,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), a member of the select committee. “It has no legal weight whatsoever, and I’m pretty sure the Department of Justice has read [last week’s] opinion, so they don’t need us to tell them that it exists.”

Although congressional committees have routinely issued criminal referrals to the Justice Department in the past, but such a move against a former president would be unprecedented and carry enormous political weight.

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“Whether we make a referral or not, I think that as the judge pointed out, there is credible evidence that the former president is engaged in criminal conduct, and I don’t think that can be ignored by the Justice Department,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), another member of the panel.

Congress cannot initiate prosecution, and the Department of Justice doesn't always act on congressional referrals, and some legal experts worry that a criminal referral against Trump would politicize any investigation by law enforcement.

“A formal criminal referral from Congress in this situation could backfire," said Ronald Weich, a University of Baltimore law professor and former assistant attorney general in the Obama Justice Department. "The Justice Department’s charging decisions should not be influenced by political pressure, and that’s how this might look. A referral could make it harder for the department to prosecute.”

Randall Eliason, a George Washington University criminal law professor, agreed the risks might be too great.

“It would have no legal effect, just political ones,” Ellison said, "and Congress wouldn’t be telling the DOJ anything it doesn’t already know, or that it couldn’t tell the DOJ without a referral. So I still feel like the costs outweigh any benefits.”