The January 6th Committee appears to have just given away that it intends to get Donald Trump criminally indicted

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Here’s the thing about the January 6th Committee, or any congressional probe like it. If you’re the kind of politically knowledgeable person who already knows the basic framework of Donald Trump’s involvement in the Capitol attack, you’re not the committee’s target audience.

The January 6th Committee’s job is to educate average Americans in the middle, who don’t watch any cable news, don’t pay daily attention to politics, and don’t yet have a handle on Trump’s relation to the Capitol attack. It’s why the committee has to use measured words, such as when it says it’ll “consider” subpoenaing Donald Trump, when it obviously plans to do so; the committee can’t be seen as getting overzealously ahead of itself in the eyes of the people in the middle, who don’t like gleeful partisanship.

Because Liz Cheney is a Republican who’s investigating her fellow Republican Donald Trump, she can get away with slightly more biting rhetoric, without the people in the middle seeing her words as being biased. Accordingly, during last night’s hearing, she seemed to strongly hint that the committee will end up referring Donald Trump for federal criminal prosecution. It turns out we weren’t the only ones who saw it that way, as CNN came away with the same conclusion.

It’s not just that the committee is going to refer Donald Trump for criminal contempt if he refuses to comply with his inevitable subpoena. Cheney’s rhetoric suggests that the committee already has a criminal case against him.

If the January 6th Committee refers Donald Trump to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution, the DOJ will indeed indict Trump for any of those charges that it believes it can get to stick at trial. The DOJ may not indict Trump on every last charge that the committee refers him on. But it’s almost impossible to imagine the committee asking the DOJ to indict Trump on easily proven charges, and the DOJ just saying “nah.”

Donald Trump is already under state-level criminal investigation in three jurisdictions (Manhattan, Fulton County, Westchester), two of which have already reached the grand jury stage, one of which has already begun indicting Trump’s company and underlings. So it’s been reasonable to say that Trump is on a path to prison.

But there’s always been a question of whether the DOJ is also building a criminal case against Trump, with no clear answers. If Congress hands the DOJ a clear cut criminal case against Trump and asks to prosecute, it’s likely to happen. Keep in mind that the DOJ just indicted Steve Bannon under these exact same circumstances.

In any case, the big news for now is that Congress appears to be signaling that it will indeed ask the DOJ to indict Donald Trump and put him on criminal trial. Of course the committee has to make its case to the general public first, which it plans to do in televised hearings after the holidays, in order to ratchet up pressure on the DOJ to go through with it. But this is getting uglier for Trump by the minute.

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