Appointing a credible, non-partisan Jan. 6 commission should not be difficult
After violent national tragedies — such as Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, and 9/11 — blue ribbon, bipartisan commissions are named to assemble facts, assign culpability and offer preventive protections against subsequent acts of violence.
It has been more than 100 days since a mob assaulted the Capitol in a violent attempt to prevent congressional certification of a presidential election. Proposals for a commission — offered right after the carnage, by Republicans and Democrats alike — have bogged down in partisan sniping.
Therefore, Congress should promptly pass legislation authorizing the president to appoint a commission, equally divided between Republicans and Democrats and subject to a veto of either House.
“A commission is really necessary and logical,” says Tom Kean, the former congressman and Republican governor of New Jersey who headed the 9/11 Commission. “Congress seems incapable of doing anything bi-partisan. There are important questions to ask — what happened, why, who was involved — and set things in place so it will not happen again.”
An independent commission — if bi-partisan and with immensely respected figures like Kean and Lee Hamilton, the Democratic vice chair of the 9/11 Commission — has unique advantages. It avoids much of the petty partisanship that plagues every level of Congress and goes well beyond the potential legal and criminal aspects of the investigation.
Last week, 140 former top national security, foreign policy, military and elected officials — Democrats and Republicans — wrote a letter on the essentiality of an independent commission to “investigate the January 6th assault of the U.S. Capitol complex and its direct causes, and to make recommendations to prevent future assaults and strengthen the resilience of our democratic institutions.” The letter added that with the 9/11 Commission, “Congressional inquiries, law enforcement activities, and a national commission not only worked in parallel, but critically complemented each other’s necessary work.”
A Commission only works if it is credibly bipartisan.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made a rare mistake in proposing a commission that would have a clear Democratic majority. That gave Republican critics an opening, and the stalemate has dragged on for months.
Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), suggested that any investigation include a probe of Antifa and violent demonstrations that occurred last summer over the murder of George Floyd.
This is a disingenuous digression, pandering to the Trumpites and — whether purposeful or not — mitigates the violent role of white nationalists.
If Antifa, a small left wing radical group, played any role in the Jan. 6 assault — there is no evidence it did — it’ll come out in any investigation. To broaden the scope would be equivalent to the 9/11 Commission being required to probe the 2001 anti-globalist demonstrations or the Cincinnati protests against racial injustice.
Congressional legislation should give the Jan. 6 Commission wide ranging authority to learn everything about the frightening assault on the citadel of American democracy. Adequate funds must be provided for sufficient staff and investigators.
That commission also should be given subpoena powers with criminal penalties. Although the 9/11 Commission only used it once, Kean told me that authority was important; it makes cooperation — unfriendly or not — much more likely. A report could be issued by Christmas.
Biden should appoint members who command respect. It should not include any of his political operatives, which would automatically diminish credibility.
As Tom Kean says, it’s “easy to find people with a strong record of service and expertise. There are lots.”
Let me toss out a few possibilities: Name Leon Panetta — a former Democratic member of Congress, Defense Secretary and CIA director — and Tom Ridge — former Republican member of Congress, governor of Pennsylvania and the first Secretary of Homeland Security — as co-chairs. Other Republican members could include: Mitch Daniels, a cabinet officer, governor of Indiana, now President of Purdue University; Fran Townsend, a Homeland Security Adviser to President George W. Bush; and Susan Molinari, who was a Republican member of Congress who once gave the keynote address at the party’s convention. Democrats could include: Janet Napolitano, a former U.S. Attorney, governor of Arizona, and Homeland Security Secretary; Sally Yates, former U.S. Attorney and Deputy Attorney General; and Jeh Johnson, who was general counsel for the Defense Department and then Homeland Security Secretary.
The 9/11 commission had ten members. Throw in a police chief and a retired general. There may be others equally impressive. The point is: A distinguished, credible commission could be quickly tapped and begin work.
If Sen. McConnell rejects this, it’d be clear he’s playing partisan games.
Given political divisions, not everyone would accept whatever this group find and recommends — but it would be credible and supported by most.
The most dangerous invasion of the United States Capitol since the British attacked during the War of 1812 needs no less.
Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then The International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.
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