Ahead of the House Jan. 6 committee’s third public hearing, Rep. Adam Schiff, one of its members, said that the top goal of the panel is to “expose how close we came to losing our democracy.”
“I will consider our work successful if we expose the danger if we alert the American people to just how close we can to losing our democracy and the fact that we're not out of danger,” the California Democrat told Spectrum News.
“The ‘big lie’ that led to that violence on Jan. 6 is still being used around the country to disenfranchise people, to run local elections officials out of town, sometimes with death threats,” he added. “People need to understand just how fragile our democracy is in order for us to protect it.
Schiff, a member of the House since 2001, rose to national prominence in recent years as an outspoken critic of former President Donald Trump and his administration. He also served as one of the lead impeachment managers during Trump’s first impeachment trial in 2020 and chairs the critical House Intelligence Committee.
Now he’s focused on investigating last year’s deadly attack on the Capitol, which has been described as the worst such attack since the Civil War, and the role the former president and his allies played in the lead-up to the insurrection.
Schiff spoke to Spectrum News amid multiple reports that the panel is split over whether or not to make a criminal referral to the Department of Justice, just days after members of the panel said that they have collected enough evidence for the department to consider an indictment.
In an interview with ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Schiff said he would like the Justice Department to “investigate any credible allegation of criminal activity on the part of Donald Trump or anyone else.”
“The rule of law needs to apply equally to everyone, and there are certain actions, parts of these different lines of effort to overturn the election that I don't see evidence the Justice Department is investigating,” Schiff said Sunday. “And, of course, we have now a federal judge saying that he believes based on the limited set of evidence that he has seen which is far smaller than the body that we've accumulated that the president and others may have committed multiple federal crimes. So that should be investigated.”
The panel’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., made waves Monday when he told reporters that making a criminal referral is “not our job.”
“Our job is to look at the facts and the circumstances around January 6th, what caused it, and make recommendations after that,” he said.
Minutes later, vice chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., took to Twitter to say that the panel “has not issued a conclusion regarding potential criminal referrals. We will announce a decision on that at an appropriate time.”
In a separate interview with Spectrum News, Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy, another member of the panel, said that’s up to the Justice Department to decide.
“My job on the committee is to lay out all of the facts and to provide legislative recommendations,” Murphy said. “And then I'll let the American people judge for themselves whether or not Donald Trump was of fit moral character and fit for the office that he held.”
“The Department of Justice will make their decisions as to whether or not they need to launch criminal investigations,” she continued, noting that “they have prosecuted hundreds of people who were involved in Jan. 6, and have put them through the judicial system.”
“I'm happy to leave them to do their job and I'm going to focus on mine,” she added.
Schiff echoed similar sentiments in his interview with Spectrum News.
“It'll be the Justice Department's job to decide if laws were broken and who should be prosecuted,” the California Democrat said.
“We haven't made a decision,” Schiff said. “We will, I think, when the hearings are over, begin those discussions about whether to make criminal referrals if we do what kind of referrals and against what individuals. So we're going across the bridge when we come to it.
“But it's also I think, important for the public to understand that the Justice Department doesn't sit around waiting for Congress to refer criminal matters,” he continued. “If they believe a crime has been committed, it's their obligation to investigate.”
“I think that there has been ample evidence put forward that the former president and others may have engaged in criminal activity such that there should be an investigation,” Schiff added. “And not just the people that attacked the Capitol that day, but also those higher up that organized this multilayered effort to overturn the election results.”
“I think they they need to operate on their own two feet. I hope they are,” he said. “But I will consider our work a success if we expose all the malefactors, if we show the country how close we came to losing our democracy, and if we prescribe remedies about how to protect our the aim of our efforts."
The Jan. 6 committee has issued a number of subpoenas to Republican House leadership and Trump allies, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Rep. Scott Perry, R-Penn.
McCarthy wrote a lengthy 11-page letter through his lawyer with questions he wanted answered by the committee before he would comply with the subpoena. The Republican Leader told Spectrum News last week that he had received a response, but that the committee had not answered all his questions and he had sent another letter in response.
When asked if he would make the letter public, he said “I can, that’s no problem.” McCarthy’s office has not released the letter, despite multiple requests from Spectrum News.
Schiff did not respond directly to McCarthy’s claims, but cast doubt on whether McCarthy or any other Republican member of the House would comply with the investigation.
“I guess it depends at the end of the day, how much their oath of office means to them," Schiff said. "Mr. McCarthy's sent us a very lengthy letter which was basically his way of a dodge."
"This is someone of course, Kevin McCarthy, who was caught on tape recently lying about what he was telling colleagues just after Jan. 6, when he was acknowledging to Republican colleagues the [former] president’s responsibility in part for the attack of that day that the President ought to resign," Schiff continued, referring to audio obtained by The New York Times.
Schiff alleged that the Republican leader "has serious problems telling the truth" and speculated that he may be "concerned" about testifying under oath.
"Nonetheless, we press on," he said. "We have found multiple sources of information for many of the issues that we're interested in."
"We hope, although it may be a vanishing hope that our colleagues will live up to their oath of office and provide what information they have," Schiff added.