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Why Pelosi's call for a commission on the Capitol attack matters

The Trump impeachment trial answered some questions, but raised others. An independent 9/11-style commission would fill in the gaps.
Image: Nancy Pelosi
Nancy Pelosi speaks to the media, on Dec. 30, 2020, on Capitol Hill.Jacquelyn Martin / AP

It wasn't long after the deadly insurrectionist attack on the U.S. Capitol that officials realized that a comprehensive review of what transpired would be necessary. Two weeks ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told members about the need "to examine and report upon the facts, causes and security relating to the terrorist mob attack on January 6."

As NBC News reported late yesterday, those plans are now moving forward.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is doubling down on calls for a 9/11-style commission on the Capitol attack, following the impeachment and acquittal of former President Donald Trump in the Senate this past weekend. In a letter to House Democrats, Pelosi urged lawmakers to appropriate additional funds for better House member security and advocated for an independent commission to investigate the circumstances that led to the deadly Jan. 6 riot, after a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.

In a letter to her Democratic colleagues, Pelosi pointed to the security review retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré is overseeing, which the Speaker said reinforced the need for a comprehensive investigation.

Pelosi added that the independent commission would "investigate and report on the facts and causes relating to the January 6, 2021 domestic terrorist attack upon the United States Capitol Complex… and relating to the interference with the peaceful transfer of power, including facts and causes relating to the preparedness and response of the United States Capitol Police and other Federal, State, and local law enforcement in the National Capitol Region."

Naturally, there are all kinds of practical and logistical questions that do not yet have answers. We don't know, for example, who'd lead the commission, how many members it would have, who'd be responsible for choosing the commissioners, the possible scope of their subpoena power, the timeframe for an investigation, etc.

For that matter, it's not yet clear whether congressional Republicans will support the creation of such a panel. (Given recent far-right interest in anti-Pelosi conspiracy theories related to Capitol security, I have a hunch GOP lawmakers can be talked into endorsing the commission by assuring them the investigation will examine such matters.)

Republican buy-in is more than a curiosity: the creation of a 9/11-style commission will almost certainly require legislation, which would be subject to a GOP filibuster in the Senate.

But while these details come together, let's not miss the forest for the trees: such a commission will have important work to do, because there's still a great deal about last month's attack that we do not yet know.

Toward the end of last week's impeachment trial, we were reminded of, among other things, the dramatic gaps in our understanding of Donald Trump's actions on Jan. 6, including basic questions his own defense attorneys wouldn't even try to answer. An independent commission with subpoena power could deliver answers the trial could not. There's also no shortage of questions about the delay in the deployment of the National Guard during the riot, which went largely unexplored in the Senate last week.

Indeed, while many were disappointed by the lack of witness testimony in the proceedings against the former president -- in part because of the incomplete historical record -- it seems likely to me that House impeachment managers recognized the fact that a 9/11-stycle commission was on the way, and it would be empowered to fill in the gaps.

In other words, the trial was the first phase, not the last, in getting answers.