Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivered some striking comments during a congressional hearing yesterday, including an exchange in which he raised an important question: "What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America?"
The original plan was to answer that and related questions about the Jan. 6 attack through an independent panel along the lines of the 9/11 Commission. Democrats and Republicans engaged in lengthy negotiations and came to an agreement after Democrats made a series of concessions demanded by the GOP. Republicans ended up rejecting the bipartisan proposal anyway.
It was around this time that some GOP lawmakers started rewriting the history of the insurrectionist attack -- recasting the rioters as harmless tourists and victims -- which yesterday drew the ire of U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth. The Reagan-appointed jurist said, "I'm especially troubled by the accounts of some members of Congress that January 6 was just a day of tourists walking through the Capitol. I don't know what planet they were on."
Perhaps a newly announced congressional select committee will be able to help educate the confused.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that the House will establish a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. "This morning, with great solemnity and sadness, I am announcing the House will be establishing a select committee on the January 6th insurrection," Pelosi said at a news conference.
"January 6th was one of the darkest days in our nation's history," the Speaker added. "It is imperative that we establish the truth of that day and ensure an attack of that kind cannot happen, and that we root out the causes of it all. The select committee will investigate and report on the facts and the causes of the attack" and report recommendations.
As recently as last week, House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told CNN that Democrats were still hoping to get enough Republican votes in the Senate for a bipartisan plan for a Jan. 6 panel. Evidently, Democratic leaders are no longer willing to wait.
This will be the first such panel since the 2012 attack against U.S. outposts in Benghazi, Libya. After six separate congressional investigations failed to bolster far-right conspiracy theories, then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) created a select committee to tell Republicans what they wanted to hear. (It ultimately failed, too.)
The creation of a special select committee has some practical advantages, starting with the obvious fact that Pelosi doesn't need Republicans' permission to create such a panel.
What's more, as we recently discussed, the committee will have subpoena power, a dedicated staff, and no firm deadline. Democratic leaders would also almost certainly ensure that such a panel have a Democratic chair, just as Republicans led their Obama-era Benghazi select committee.
On the flip side, the select committee will be comprised of sitting House members, which means it won't be entirely independent and will likely be dismissed as "political" by those who dislike its findings. Republicans, meanwhile, will be invited to name their own slate of committee members, and the odds of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) choosing members who'll make every possible effort to turn the investigation into a ridiculous circus is roughly 100%.
Alternatively, GOP leaders might simply refuse to name anyone to a select committee, which wouldn't derail its investigation, but which would make it appear more of a partisan exercise.
Pelosi has not announced some of the details, including the size and leadership of the panel. Watch this space.