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Opinion Pelosi’s Jan. 6 commission is an excellent idea — if it’s done right

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks during a news conference on Feb. 13. (Alexander Drago/Reuters)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) proposed 9/11-style commission to look into the Jan. 6 Capitol riot is an excellent idea — if, that is, it is genuinely bipartisan and looks into all of the factors that contributed to the riot, including decisions that she herself may have made.

The storming of the Capitol was one of the most deplorable and shocking events in U.S. history. Never before had a mob of Americans seized the citadel of American democracy in a fit of fury. The evidence produced at former president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial that showed some intended to kill Vice President Mike Pence and Pelosi demonstrated how close the event came to being catastrophically worse. We must get to the bottom of what happened and why.

Pelosi’s proposed commission could accomplish that. The 9/11 Commission that she says this would be modeled on was genuinely bipartisan. Its five Republican and five Democratic members were distinguished former legislators and public officials whose prestige and reputations lent credibility to the investigation. It conducted months of investigations, followed the evidence where it led and produced a massive report detailing what happened and offering recommendations to prevent a similar tragedy. No such effort is immune from criticism, but the 9/11 Commission did an excellent job of putting politics behind it in pursuit of the truth.

That’s exactly what’s needed here. We need to know how the riot came to be and why Capitol security failed so dismally. Given the prevailing partisan passions, such an effort must be perceived by all to be interested in the truth and not in digging up nuggets of facts that would then be spun into a partisan web.

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This effort should look at the role Trump and his official or campaign staff played in organizing or inspiring the rally that transformed into the riot. It should also look into what Trump knew about the riot and when, and what he did and did not do to protect the vice president, lawmakers and their staffs. We don’t know what this will uncover, but it could find things that will make many Republicans unhappy and uncomfortable.

But that’s not the only line of inquiry it should pursue. Did anyone — including extremists on the right — infiltrate the protesters with the intent of turning a mass rally into a violent event? Some on the right still believe antifa or other leftist extremist were involved even though the FBI discredits that notion. These possibilities should also be thoroughly investigated regardless of who might be embarrassed or what it implies for Trump’s culpability.

The commission should also examine why Capitol Police failed so dismally when put to the test. It’s clear that at a minimum they were understaffed, improperly equipped and poorly deployed. It’s also clear that supporting forces, such as the National Guard or D.C. police, were not readily available in case the gathering exploded out of control. History would have been very different if police had held their lines and kept protesters outside the building. It’s crucial to understand why such a massive and consequential failure of duty occurred and who was to blame.

Commissioners themselves should include notable representatives from all political persuasions. That means at least one person should be recognized as a strong progressive while another should be a high-profile Trump supporter. It’s essential that people on both political poles know that their views are included and respected during the search for truth. Anything less would mean the commission’s conclusions would be rejected out of hand by important segments in both parties.

A genuine search for truth will always make someone feel uncomfortable. That’s something all of us should embrace in this case. A representative 1/6 Commission that is well constructed, staffed and led could help us transcend our damaging divisions.

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