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Politics chat: January 6 committee will take up criminal referral against Trump

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

The House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on Congress and the vice president will take up criminal referrals against former President Donald Trump tomorrow. NPR can report that the committee will vote on at least two charges - obstruction of an official congressional proceeding and conspiracy to defraud the United States. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson will be watching tomorrow's vote and joins us now.

Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So let's start by looking at these two charges, the two that we know of so far.

LIASSON: That's right. Tomorrow, the January 6 committee, as you said, votes on these two charges. There might be more charges, too. The first one, obstruction of an official congressional proceeding, is pretty basic, very straightforward - basically says that when the former president encouraged his supporters to go up to Congress to stop the steal, he was trying to stop Congress from doing its official duties, which was to certify the electoral count. And he tried to do that in a number of different ways, according to the committee - not just sending his supporters up to stop the steal, but also to put forward false slates of electors.

The second charge, defrauding Congress, stems from the committee's argument that Donald Trump knowingly spread false information about the election being stolen. He was told repeatedly by his aides, the committee will say, that he had not won the election, but - and that there are even reports that he acknowledged privately that he understood that. But he continued to insist that he had. There are possible other charges, including incitement of insurrection. That's what Trump was impeached for by the House of Representatives in January of 2021. Jamie Raskin was an impeachment manager. He also sits on the January 6 committee. He's a congressman from Maryland. So there are other charges that might be sent to the Department of Justice, but those are the two that we can confirm.

RASCOE: And we should say stop the steal is Trump's term that - that's what he was trying to do.

LIASSON: Trump's term for stopping the certification...

RASCOE: Stopping the certification.

LIASSON: ...Of the free and fair election. Correct.

RASCOE: Yeah. And so a referral to the Justice Department is just that, right? It's a request, a recommendation.

LIASSON: That's right. It has no legal weight in and of itself. Of course, Trump, through a spokesman, has denounced the committee. Over the weekend, he said they held show trials. They were a kangaroo court. The Department of Justice is already pursuing its own criminal probe of what Donald Trump did around January 6. And the committee is certainly hoping that by sending these referrals, even if the Department of Justice doesn't act on them specifically, that they can help influence the prosecutors, they can provide a kind of road map because they, of course, are going to be releasing thousands of interviews, thousands of pages of transcripts about what happened on January 6. So, yes, just because they're referring these to the Department of Justice doesn't mean that they will be acted on.

RASCOE: Let's talk about the influence on public opinion because Pew Research found a majority - 52% of Americans - thought Trump bore a lot of responsibility for the attack when asked about it just after January 6. But over the course of the following year, that number sank to the low 40s, and other polls put it there as well. So does that reflect on the work of the January 6 committee?

LIASSON: Well, it could reflect on a lot of things - how polarized we are, how strong and solid Donald Trump's base of supporters is. If the goal of the committee was to consistently have a majority of Americans thinking that Trump bore a lot of responsibility for attack, then I guess you could say they've failed. On the other hand, Trump's standing has diminished over the years. And I think that that January 6 committee's work is part of that. We know that he is no longer favored by a majority of Republicans in polls to be the nominee in 2024. So I think those polls tell us a lot of different things.

RASCOE: The NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll said that 83% of Americans think there's a serious threat to the future of the nation's democracy - 83%. What do you think is behind that?

LIASSON: Now, that's a poll worth paying attention to.

RASCOE: (Laughter) Yes.

LIASSON: Look, people think that for different reasons.

RASCOE: Yes.

LIASSON: Republicans might say that because they think Donald Trump falsely was the true winner of the last election. Democrats are worried that Republicans won't accept the results of elections that are free and fair. But 83% worrying about democracy is a big deal. But I do think there is this kind of a sliver of good news in that in this last election, a lot of election deniers were defeated and, more importantly, a lot of them conceded.

RASCOE: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you so much.

LIASSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIOHEAD SONG, "A PUNCH UP AT A WEDDING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.