Appointing a Credible, Nonpartisan January 6 Commission Shouldn’t Be Difficult
After violent national tragedies—such as Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, and 9/11—blue ribbon, bipartisan commissions are appointed to gather the facts, assign culpability, and offer preventative protections against further acts of violence.
It has been more than 100 days since a mob attacked the Capitol in a violent attempt to prevent congressional certification of a presidential election. Commission proposals — proposed in the wake of the carnage by both Republicans and Democrats — have become mired in partisan snipers.
Therefore, Congress should quickly pass legislation authorizing the president to appoint a commission, split equally between Republicans and Democrats and vetoed by either house.
“A commission is really necessary and logical,” says Tom Kean, the former congressman and Republican governor of New Jersey who led the 9/11 Commission. “Congress seems unable to do anything bipartisan. There are important questions to ask – what happened, why, who was involved – and put things in place so that it doesn’t happen again.
An independent commission — so bipartisan and with immensely respected figures like Kean and Lee Hamilton, the Democratic vice-chairman of the 9/11 Commission — has unique advantages. It avoids much of the petty partisanship that plagues all levels 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 — penned a letter about the need for an independent commission to “investigate the assault of January 6 against 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, “investigations of Congress, law enforcement activities and a national commission not only worked in parallel, but significantly complemented each other’s necessary work.”
A Commission only works if it is credibly bipartisan.
Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPresident of Ukraine calls for preemptive sanctions against Russia Biden to call National Security Council meeting on Ukraine 5 things to know today about the Russia-Ukraine crisis MORE (D-California) made a rare mistake in proposing a commission that would have a clear Democratic majority. It gave an opening to Republican critics, and the stalemate has been going on for months.
Republicans, including the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP senator faces challenge over Trump credentials Pictures of the Week: Ukraine, Super Bowl LVI and penguins Pence says he believes RNC’s clarification of ‘legitimate political speech’ qualifies the January 6 of “tragic day” MORE (R-Ky.), suggested that any investigation include an investigation into Antifa and the violent protests that took place last summer over the murder of George Floyd.
This is a disingenuous digression, flattering the Trumpites and – whether deliberate or not – downplays the violent role of white nationalists.
If Antifa, a small radical left-wing group, played a role in the Jan. 6 attack — there is no evidence it did — it will come out in any investigation. Broadening the scope would be like asking the 9/11 Commission to investigate the 2001 anti-globalization protests or the Cincinnati protests against racial injustice.
Congressional legislation should give the Jan. 6 Commission broad authority to hear all about the chilling assault on the citadel of American democracy. Adequate funds must be provided for a sufficient number of staff and investigators.
This commission should also be given subpoena powers with criminal penalties. Although the 9/11 Commission only used it once, Kean told me the authority was important; this makes cooperation – hostile or not – much more likely. A report could be out by Christmas.
Biden should appoint members who command respect. He should not include any of his political operatives, which would automatically diminish his credibility.
As Tom Kean says, it’s “easy to find people who have a solid record of service and expertise. There are many.”
Let me offer a few possibilities: name Leon Panetta – former Democratic congressman, secretary of defense and director of the CIA – and Tom Ridge – former Republican congressman, governor of Pennsylvania and first secretary of Homeland Security – as co-chairs. Other Republican members could include: Mitch Daniels, a cabinet member, governor of Indiana, now president of Purdue University; Fran Townsend, Homeland Security Advisor to President George W. Bush; and Susan Molinari, who was a Republican congresswoman and gave the keynote address at the party convention. Democrats could include: Janet Napolitano, former US attorney, Arizona governor and Homeland Security secretary; Sally YatesSally Caroline YatesFormer Chicago Red Stars player accuses ex-coach of verbal and emotional abuse Hardcore press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff’s book based on Russian fiction Sally Yates reveals breast cancer battle, former U.S. Attorney and Assistant Attorney General; and Jeh Johnson, who was general counsel for the Department of Defense and then secretary of Homeland Security.
The 9/11 commission had ten members. Add a retired police chief and general. There may be others just as impressive. The point is this: a distinguished and credible commission could be quickly tapped and begin to work.
If Senator McConnell rejects this, it would be clear that he is playing partisan games.
Given the political divisions, not everyone would accept what this group found and recommended – but it would be credible and supported by most.
The most dangerous invasion of the United States Capitol since the British attacked in the War of 1812 needs no less.
Al Hunt is the former editor of Bloomberg News. Previously, he was a Washington reporter, bureau chief and editor for The Wall Street Journal. For nearly a quarter of a century, he wrote a political column 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.