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The political consequences of the Jan. 6 committee's criminal referrals of Trump

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

OK. We are going to stick with the final January 6 committee hearing that wrapped up today. As we've been discussing, in addition to the legal aspects of the criminal referrals that the committee recommended, there are also significant political implications.

We're joined now by NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro to dig a bit deeper into that politics. Hi, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hello, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Domenico, did the committee provide any reasoning for why they're referring former President Trump and others on multiple criminal charges to the Justice Department?

MONTANARO: Yes. I mean, the committee said that it has significant evidence of wrongdoing by Trump and several of his associates. Here was committee Chairman Bennie Thompson explaining why the committee believes these referrals are necessary.

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BENNIE THOMPSON: Beyond our findings, we will also show that evidence we've gathered points to further action beyond the power of this committee or the Congress to help ensure accountability on the law, accountability that can only be found in the criminal justice system.

MONTANARO: He said, essentially, they're providing a road map to justice for the Justice Department. Trump, as we know, though, has been facing multiple legal challenges. No federal charges have been brought against him to this point, but the Justice Department has a special counselor looking into Trump's conduct.

It's remarkable because even in this environment, Trump is running again. His gamble is that the charges won't stick or that he could use them to be something of a martyr or further conspiracies about those investigating him as we've seen him do. But we really need to underscore here that this is a former president. It's a really big deal. It's never been done before, and it'll be remembered by history. And this is going to be a major piece of Donald Trump's legacy.

SUMMERS: This was the committee's final hearing. And at this point, we have heard hours of testimony. Did we learn anything new today about former President Trump's mindset on January 6?

MONTANARO: Well, the committee's provided lots of evidence that Trump's team knew that allegations of widespread fraud were baseless. We heard, for example, for the first time today from Hope Hicks, who was a top communications adviser to the president, very close to the former president. She said that she had warned Trump that his legacy would be tarnished if he continued to talk about these allegations. And one thing, she said, mattered above all else with Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HOPE HICKS: He said something along the lines of, you know, nobody will care about my legacy if I lose, so that won't matter. The only thing that matters is winning.

MONTANARO: Yeah. I mean, for those of us who've covered Trump closely over the years, we've known that Trump needed an exit ramp from an election that he lost because he couldn't go down as a loser. He needed a scapegoat. He needed it to not be his fault. And now we know that he admitted exactly that to someone close to him.

SUMMERS: So given that Trump has already announced he is running again in 2024 and that the country remains deeply divided over January 6 and the 2020 election, in the short time we've got left, what kind of impact do you think this report and these hearings could have?

MONTANARO: Well, not to be a broken record about this, but there has been plenty of evidence of wrongdoing over the years, not just related to January 6 but impeachments, allegations of sexual misconduct and more than that. But instead of seeing it matter tremendously with Trump's base, instead what we've seen is people just entrenched in their own partisanship. We've seen it in polling and particularly among people who have not paid very close attention, which are Republicans.

SUMMERS: That is NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro. Thank you.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Domenico Montanaro
Domenico Montanaro is NPR's senior political editor/correspondent. Based in Washington, D.C., his work appears on air and online delivering analysis of the political climate in Washington and campaigns. He also helps edit political coverage.