This legal expert believes Trump criminal referrals would be a 'bad idea' -- here's why
President Donald Trump (MSNBC)

The House select committee is considering a criminal referral for Donald Trump to the Department of Justice, but one legal expert argued that would be a mistake.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) suggested earlier this month that investigators believe the twice-impeached one-term president may have committed felony obstruction of justice, but George Washington law professor Randall D. Eliason published a Washington Post column explaining why that would be a "bad idea."

"A criminal referral has no real legal effect; it is simply Congress informing the Justice Department about potential criminal conduct. It does not compel or allow prosecutors to do anything they cannot already do," Eliason wrote. "The department may decide the matter is not worthy of investigation, may investigate and decide not to bring any charges, or may decide to prosecute — the same options it has with any information it receives."

Congress makes those referrals to alert the Justice Department to possible crimes for investigation, but Eliason argued that wasn't necessary in Trump's case -- and might even be counterproductive.

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"The events leading up to the assault on the Capitol are widely known," he wrote. "They have been the subject of numerous media reports and books, not to mention a full impeachment proceeding. The riot is the subject of what is likely the largest and most complex federal criminal investigation in history, with hundreds of people already indicted. The Justice Department is deeply enmeshed in investigating the events of Jan. 6 and does not need a congressional heads-up."

The Justice Department has already indicted hundreds of people who took part in the insurrection, but Eliason argued that criminal referrals would politicize any investigation of Trump and his allies that attorney general Merrick Garland was already conducting and jeopardize legislative reforms needed in response to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

"If the committee is interested in seeing high-level criminal prosecutions for the Capitol riot, the best thing it can do is resist the political urge to make a criminal referral.," Eliason wrote. "Congress should focus its efforts on legislative reforms to prevent a future event like Jan. 6, and leave the criminal implications to prosecutors."