Philip D. Zelikow led the congressionally chartered inquiry into the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Now, he is laying the groundwork for a national commission to investigate the COVID-19 pandemic and propose forward-looking policy recommendations. The attorney, diplomat and University of Virginia professor joins Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Karen Tumulty to discuss the Covid Commission Planning Group. This group is planning a large investigative effort along multiple lines of inquiry, including the origins of the pandemic, failures of pandemic preparedness and response, the impact of COVID-19 on at-risk communities and the development and distribution of vaccines and therapeutics.


Philip D. Zelikow, who led the congressionally chartered inquiry into 9/11, is laying the groundwork for a national commission to investigate the covid-19 pandemic. He says part of the reason the Covid Commission Planning Group was formed is because the pandemic is “a sprawling crisis” and an investigation of this scale needs to be planned. “Tackling an understanding of this crisis is actually a harder problem than the 9/11 Commission was.” (Washington Post Live)
Congress has not chartered an investigation into the coronavirus pandemic. Philip D. Zelikow says the chances of that happening are low at the moment, but there are other ways to form a commission, including President Biden creating one or forming an independent, privately sponsored commission. “Congress can pass an act creating such a commission….our reading of the situation on Capitol Hill…is that right now that’s unlikely." (Washington Post Live)
Philip D. Zelikow, who led the congressionally chartered inquiry into 9/11, reflects on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack, his work on the 9/11 Commission and the recent withdrawal the U.S. from Afghanistan. (Washington Post Live)

Philip D. Zelikow

Philip Zelikow is the White Burkett Miller Professor of History and J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance at the University of Virginia, where he has also served as dean of the Graduate School and director of the Miller Center. His scholarly work has focused on critical episodes in American and world history.

He was a trial and appellate lawyer and then a career diplomat before taking academic positions at Harvard, then Virginia. Before and during his academic career, he has served at all levels of American government. His federal service during five administrations has included positions in the White House, State Department, and the Pentagon. His last full-time government position was as the counselor of the Department of State, a deputy to Secretary Condoleezza Rice.

He directed a small and short-lived federal agency, the 9/11 Commission. He also directed an earlier bipartisan commission on election reform, chaired by former Presidents Carter and Ford, that led to successful passage of the Help America Vote Act of 2002. More recently he was managing director of “Rework America,” a landmark project on American economic opportunity in the digital age, organized by the Markle Foundation.

He is one of the few individuals ever to serve on the President’s Intelligence Advisory Boards for presidents of both parties, in the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He has also been a member of the Defense Policy Board for Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and a member of the board of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Moderated by Karen Tumulty

Karen Tumulty is a columnist for The Washington Post. In her previous role as a national political correspondent for the newspaper, she received the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting. She joined The Post in 2010 from Time magazine, where she had held the same title. During her more than 15 years at Time, Tumulty wrote or co-wrote more than three dozen cover stories. She also held positions with Time as congressional correspondent and White House correspondent. Before joining Time in 1994, Tumulty spent 14 years at the Los Angeles Times, where she covered a wide variety of beats. During her time there, she reported on Congress, business, energy and economics from Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. Tumulty is a native of San Antonio, where she began her career at the now-defunct San Antonio Light. Tumulty holds a bachelor of journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and an MBA from Harvard Business School.