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House Jan. 6 committee is likely to make criminal referrals

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We turn now to what could be yet another legal morass for former President Trump. The House select January 6 committee says they will issue criminal referrals. But they're not yet going to reveal names. Here's the panel's chair, Bennie Thompson.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BENNIE THOMPSON: We have not made a decision as to who. But we have made decisions that criminal referrals will happen.

MARTIN: Although, top figures, including former President Trump, are still on the table. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales is with us. Hey, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What authority does the January 6 committee have to do this, to make these criminal referrals?

GRISALES: Well, Congress does have the authority to issue criminal referrals. They cannot issue criminal charges. So this is the closest they can come to that. And it basically comes in the form of a letter to the Justice Department, perhaps signed by Thompson, for example. And the letter would name certain individuals and the charges that the panel said these individuals could face if the Justice Department were to mount a prosecution.

And as we know, this is an update from the last hearing the panel had. Thompson, at that time, and other members said they had sufficient information to consider criminal referrals and recommend a range of legislative proposals. And so in terms of these referrals themselves, this is an update. Thompson said they could issue decisions on this as early as this week. It's all very fluid. And they had a lengthy meeting last night to hash out these plans, with more meetings planned to come this week.

MARTIN: What evidence or information do they have that they can send to the Justice Department to back up the referral?

GRISALES: They could share their own investigative findings, some they've already shared earlier this year. And they've said they're going to share new information. This could be part of that. And also, the panel hinted at their plans of this referral through a court battle earlier this year with one of Trump's allies. This was lawyer John Eastman. And in filings during that case, the panel alleged Trump engaged in conspiracy to defraud the United States and obstructing an official congressional proceeding.

MARTIN: Besides Trump, who else could be named in a criminal referral?

GRISALES: Well, one unresolved issue the panel has to consider now is what to do about the House Republicans and others who defied their subpoenas. Some witnesses have faced criminal referrals for this. We saw Steve Bannon, for example, prosecuted for related charges. But it's also possible that the panel does not take action on these Republicans, which includes GOP leader Kevin McCarthy. One other major area of consideration is whether they'll pursue additional action against attorneys who played a role in attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Thompson told me they could look into actions that would have these lawyers disbarred and lose their licenses.

MARTIN: The panel is also up against a clock here - right? - when it comes to their report.

GRISALES: Right. Exactly. Thompson also said that they're not pens down on this report. It would be pretty lengthy. And this is in addition to the transcripts that they plan to release tied to more than 1,000 witnesses who were interviewed. And that's also expected to include new evidence we haven't heard before. So far, Thompson tells us it's eight chapters. But they're still sorting through drafts, deciding what to add, what to delete as they go. And he did tell reporters yesterday that they will, quote, "have a lot of Christmas reading to do."

MARTIN: NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thank you.

GRISALES: Thank you much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.