A Jan 6 Commission – Really?
by Michael Brenner on 29 May 2021 1 Comment

Let’s start with the conclusion - a sequencing very much in vogue these days. To put it bluntly: we should celebrate the looming failure of the Congressional initiative to create a special Bi-Partisan Commission to investigate the events of January 6. The reason is that as keen as we are to get a probing, comprehensive examination of all aspects of the affair, that is exactly what would be precluded by the proposed format.


It would be composed by an equal number of Republicans and Democrats chosen by party leaders in both Houses. They also will appoint co-chairs who, in turn, with share the authority to appoint staff and to issue subpoenas. One can be quite certain that the Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy will not appoint Senator Mitt Romney or Congressman Adam Kinzinger. Therefore, the outcome is readily foreseeable.      


There are only two conceivable products that could emerge from this enterprise. One is an anodyne report that restricts itself to: a chronology of the facts as already known; a broad discussion of organizational and communications shortcomings; a set of anodyne recommendations as how to address those flaws and a plea for civility. We’d learn little if anything about the machinations in the White House in advance of the failed putsch, any communications with the organizers, the directive sent to the Secretary of Defense to obstruct dispatch of the National Guard, any possible collusion between Republican Congressman and leaders of the protest. That is to say, fulfilling the most significant aspects of the Commission’s mandate.


The other possible outcome is a bifurcated report wherein each party will compose its own explanations and interpretations. That may be done either in separate reports or in syncopated fashion section by section. If the latter, the composition would follow an agreed preface that simply provides a dry narrative of the developments as they occurred.


The net effect of the former would be to sweep under the rug all of the most, salient and contentious issues. It also would further blur the public’s recollections of what happened. That latter effect would be accentuated by the inordinate length of time it takes these kind of exercises to complete their ‘work’ - as all past experience confirms. That is to say; years. The latter outcome would have the intertwined effects of sharpening partisan differences as Republicans will do all they can to whitewash the responsibility of Trump & Co. or the participation by groups that form part of their ‘base.’ Consequently, the history-deniers will be able to point to the Republican part of the report as official confirmation of their mythical rendering of the affair.


In short, a bi-partisan commission contribution will be either useless or counter to the end of underscoring the threat to American democracy.


Let’s bear in mind that these sorts of Commissions are almost always used to conceal rather to reveal. The 9/11 Commission was a bipartisan cover-up that avoided placing blame for the sins of omission and commission committed by the Clinton and, mainly, Bush presidencies. Staff director Philip Zelikow was constantly on the phone with Condoleezza Rice, his pal and co-author, over the course of the commission’s deliberations. All we got out of it was a bureaucratic restructuring that left us with the monstrosity of an utterly inept Department of Homeland Security.* 


As an alternative, does President Biden have the authority to constitute a commission of inquiry? Doing so might trespass on the legislature’s turf and violate the principle of separation of powers? I don’t know the answers to these questions. However, it is not self-evident that an attempted seizure of one branch of the United States government should not be interpreted as an attack against the Republic itself. Is it location that rules or the nature of the actions taken? In any case, there are fewer and fewer Constitutional principles that have not been violated over the past 20 years or so.


A Presidential panel of this kind likely would have to be placed under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice. That could be treated as just a formality, though. The commission would be wholly autonomous and independent of the Executive. Its mandate could stipulate that the report it issues would not be reviewed or amended by the Attorney General even if formal procedure requires that it be submitted to him before publication. The panel’s chairman would be the one who presents it to the public. Picking the right person to head it is the sine qua non crucial for the panel to fulfill its duty to the public. Someone like Robert Mueller wouldn’t do.


Under the strain of an inflated reputation, overwrought and overwhelmed, who never could settle in his mind how to reconcile his allegiance to the Republican Party with his obligation to meet overriding constitutional responsibilities, he diminished the office of Special Prosecutor, accountable governance, and himself.  In the end, Mueller was humiliated by William Barr - lacking either the character or the conviction to resist. A person in the mold of Archibald Cox or Elliot Richardson is in order – if such persons are still around. 


Such an act by the President, inherently ambiguous as to its legitimacy as seen by some, would be far less egregious that those we have passively accepted. Indeed, the Supreme Court has taken upon itself the power to rewrite the Constitution itself – as it did in defining corporations as persons covered by the protection of the First Amendment.




*The Warren Commission, mandated to look into the Kennedy assassination, took a similar tack. Its principal objective was to hide the associations between Lee Harvard Oswald with the FBI/CIA and the KGB in turn. The story is now pretty well-established. The mentally unstable Oswald was first identified as a target when he was scuttling among post-revolutionary Cuban advocacy groups - both pro and anti-Castro. The CIA tried to insert him as a low level mole in the USSR by having him make known his availability.


Twice, Moscow looked at him and said ‘not interested.’ A third try apparently succeeded and the disoriented, pliable Oswald wound up in Russia. Very quickly, the KGB realized that the guy was useless (whether or not they suspected his CIA tie). They let him stay in the country to marry Marina (for whom Oswald was a get-out-of-jail-free card) before he headed back to the US. There, he cultivated rancorous feelings about the world of espionage and bitter feelings about being used and then thrown away. Somehow or other, he came to the attention of the Cubans - likely because of his renewed involvement with the galaxy of Cuban lobbying groups.


Castro had made a decision to retaliate for the repeated American attempts to assassinate him launched by JFK. An eye-for-an-eye. Cuban intelligence hatched the plot that led to Dallas. How exactly they recruited Oswald - who knows? What was in in Oswald’s mind is similarly unknowable. We do know that he visited the Cuban embassy in Mexico City a month before the assassination. We can reasonably assume that he was not there to pick up tourist brochures. Nobody in Washington or Maclean wanted any of this to be known, neither for their part did the Soviets, even though they had absolutely nothing to do with Kennedy’s assassination.    


We can assume that Lyndon Johnson learned much, if not all, of this after entering the Oval Office. It was not a propitious time to provoke another Cuban crisis, though – 1964 being an election year and Johnson on the brink of plunging into Indo-China. 


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