The Citizens' Voice

America needs a Jan. 6 commission soon rather than later

- JESSE WEGMAN

Barely 100 days have passed since American democracy came under direct attack on Jan. 6 — a date that should live in infamy.

But the Capitol riot is already in danger of being memory-holed.

This cannot be allowed to happen. President Joe Biden and Congress must not push it off any longer: As soon as possible, the American people need a thorough, unsparing and authoritat­ive investigat­ion that details exactly what took place and how on that horrific day, identifies the larger political and societal forces that encouraged it and points the way toward a future in which such an attack is harder if not impossible to pull off.

The only legitimate way to achieve these goals is through the establishm­ent of an independen­t and bipartisan commission. Even before Jan. 6, it was clear that a commission would be necessary to take stock of the sheer amount of damage wrought by the Trump administra­tion. After Jan. 6, it became clear that another was needed.

Five people died on that day, and it was only by sheer luck and some quick thinking by Capitol guards that the death toll wasn’t far higher. Rioters were openly intent on kidnapping and even killing top Democratic lawmakers, thenvice President Mike Pence and anyone else they were told had betrayed them.

What’s standing in the way of a commission? The biggest obstacle is obvious: partisansh­ip. The perpetrato­rs of the Capitol attack were not terrorists on a murderous mission from abroad, but average Americans — grade-school teachers and public accountant­s, cops and clam-shack owners — who stormed the seat of American government, drunk on a lie about the 2020 election that had been fed to them for months by Donald Trump, his allies and leading Republican­s in Congress.

Now that lie has metastasiz­ed to include an upsidedown history of what happened on Jan. 6, regurgitat­ed by many top Republican­s — hence the right-wing agitprop fantasy in which shadowy leftist militants were the true villains.

It’s no surprise that roughly half of Republican voters now say they believe that the riot was a largely peaceful protest or that the only violence was committed by “leftwing activists” or others “trying to make Trump look bad,” according to a Reuters/ Ipsos poll. An overwhelmi­ng majority of Republican­s continue to believe that Joe Biden did not legitimate­ly win the presidency.

This mass delusion is one of the main reasons an independen­t commission is essential. A commission’s report has the opportunit­y to establish the authoritat­ive, factbased narrative of what happened and why. Such a narrative won’t magically convince millions of people who are not interested in hearing the truth. But it could at least “narrow the range of permissibl­e lies,” as writer and politician Michael Ignatieff once said about truth commission­s. It could provide concrete recommenda­tions for Congress to adopt now, as a way to prevent the next Jan. 6.

Prospects for a congressio­nally created commission looked good at first, as Republican­s and Democrats in the House each drafted their own bills, both of which had smart ideas. So did a separate one proposed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, modeled on the successful and respected 9/11 commission.

But negotiatio­ns have foundered over two key points of dispute: who sits on the commission and what those people investigat­e. Pelosi’s bill provides for 11 commission­ers, with seven named by Biden or Democrats in Congress, and four named by Republican­s. The Senate minority leader, Mitch Mcconnell, rejected this, calling it “partisan by design.” In response, Pelosi is threatenin­g to abandon the process and leave any investigat­ions to the House’s standing committees, or a select committee.

That would be a big mistake. As Americans have witnessed time and again, politicall­y sensitive investigat­ions conducted by sitting lawmakers are prone to being hijacked by grandstand­ers who care less about getting the truth than about getting more votes in their next election (see: Benghazi). Even if that weren’t an issue, there’s the problem of limited attention. Lawmakers are constantly dealing with a long list of pressing issues. Adding a major investigat­ion to that docket would only slow it down and make it vulnerable to backroom deal-making.

The solution is to divide the commission­ers equally between Democrats and Republican­s but not include any current lawmakers or public officials. Nor should there be any role in choosing commission­ers for the 147 lawmakers, including the House minority leader Kevin Mccarthy, who endorsed the lie about the election by voting to reject the Electoral College results hours after the insurrecti­on had been put down.

The good news is, that’s not necessary. There are plenty of Republican­s in public life who put their country above their party, like the former national security officials and lawmakers who this month signed a bipartisan letter calling for a wide-ranging independen­t commission.

This isn’t to say Congress has no role to play. Two Senate committees are already conducting bipartisan hearings on some of the security and intelligen­ce failings surroundin­g the Capitol riot. Last week, a new report by the Capitol Police inspector general found that officers were told not to use more aggressive tactics to fend off the mob, even though there were warnings that violence was likely. The dozens of prosecutio­ns of those who breached the Capitol or committed violence will also bring to light crucial informatio­n.

These are all-important details to get into the record, but by themselves they are far from sufficient. As the national security officials’ letter made clear, any thorough investigat­ion into the events of Jan. 6 must dig much deeper, to address the complex interplay of threats that led into and out of that day.

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