Why Mitch McConnell’s opposition to a January 6 commission is disingenuous


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That scenario was set in motion a week ago, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced he would oppose the commission in a speech on the floor of the chamber. His reasons were simple and, at first glance, seemed to make a lot of sense.

“Federal law enforcement have made at least 445 arrests and counting relating to crimes committed that day. Hundreds of those people have been charged. Law enforcement investigations are ongoing and federal authorities say they expect to arrest at least 100 or so more.

“Bipartisan investigations are also already underway, and have been for months, at the committee level in the Senate.

“So there is … there have been … and there will continue to be no shortage of robust investigations by two separate branches of the federal government.

“It’s not at all clear what new facts or additional investigation yet another commission could lay on top of the existing efforts by law enforcement and Congress.”

Pretty simple argument, right? There are already two investigations happening. Why do we need a third?

And McConnell is right that both the Justice Department and Congress are examining aspects of what happened on January 6.

The Justice Department has charged more than 400 individuals from 43 states for their observed actions on January 6. As CNN wrote late last month:

“Investigators quickly nabbed the ‘low-hanging fruit’ rioters who brazenly posted about their exploits online. Some of the rioters even turned themselves in. But investigators also went through the painstaking process of examining tens of thousands of hours of video to identify the pro-Trump rioters allegedly responsible for the most vicious attacks against police officers.”

And there is also a joint investigation being run by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which has held hearings and interviewed witnesses for several months now. A report is expected to be issued by the joint committees as soon as early June.

So McConnell’s not wrong when he says there are ongoing investigations. He’s just being disingenuous.

Here’s why.

The Justice Department investigation is focused exclusively on bringing criminal charges against individuals involved in the insurrection. They are poring over tape of the riot, scouring social media and working to match faces who stormed the Capitol that day with names and addresses. Which is a very worthy endeavor!

The joint Senate investigation is focused narrowly on what went wrong in terms of the preparation, communication and efficacy of the security response by law enforcement — primarily the US Capitol Police — on January 6. The Hill newspaper described the Senate investigation’s mandate as focused on “where security and intelligence unraveled as Capitol Police were overpowered by a pro-Trump mob that breached the building as then-Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers were certifying the Electoral College vote.”

What DOJ and the Senate are looking at are pieces of what happened on January 6. Yes, Justice will continue to arrest people they are able to identify as having broken the law on January 6. And, yes, the joint Senate investigation will produce a report that likely details a number of breakdowns and failures in regards law enforcement at the Capitol that led to police being overwhelmed by rioters.

But neither of these investigations will offer a holistic view not only of who broke the law that day and what the police could have done better but also of the factors that led up to the “Stop the Steal” march, the role that President Donald Trump played, whether the rioters were aided and abetted by anyone inside the Capitol and a thousand other questions — large and small — that would help Congress and the country understand the cataclysm of that day as well as the reverberations that continue to shake our politics. (One question a commission could answer that these other investigations won’t: What exactly was said on that January 6 phone call between Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy?)
It is that 360-degree-view that a January 6 commission could provide — and why a deal to create one was the result of a bipartisan compromise between Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D) and New York Rep. John Katko (R) in the House. And why 35 House Republicans, despite opposition from Trump and their party leaders, voted last week for legislation which would establish the commission.

McConnell, of course, knows exactly what he is doing here. His opposition to a January 6 commission modeled on the 9/11 commission isn’t because it would be “duplicative.” It’s because McConnell knows that a fulsome investigation of January 6 — as well as the run-up to the day and its aftermath — would put Trump’s actions (and inaction) front and center for the public to examine. And that’s political poison for a Republican Party desperately trying to win back the majorities in the House and Senate they lost under Trump.

And so, McConnell wants nothing to do with a 1/6 commission. And because he retains almost-complete control over the Republican Senate conference, the commission vote will fail on Thursday. But don’t be fooled: This has zero to do with McConnell’s concerns about too many investigations and everything to do with 2022 politics.

Read more at CNN.com