When it comes to the siege by Trump loyalists bent on subverting US democracy, efforts to work “across party lines” can end up obscuring more than they illuminate.
Sure, the 95-page report released Tuesday by two Senate committees is full of previously unknown details about security failures and useful recommendations about poor communications, logistical breakdowns and other intriguing lapses. Investigators clearly worked hard, poring over thousands of documents. But we are still left with many trees and no forest.
That’s because searching for the full truth is, for all intents and purposes, impossible for members of the current Republican Party. If Congress wants a probe that Republicans will endorse, it will be, by design, an investigation that will not tell the full story.
What is the most important element of the January 6 events? What is the most significant, consequential truth Americans need to know? If, like me, you see the assault on the Capitol as a coup attempt, then you’ll agree that we must know who the coup plotters were.
Senate staffers told CNN that investigators, in order to secure Republican support for the final report, avoided some key questions, beginning with what role former President Donald Trump played in the insurrection. The word “insurrection,” by the way, does not appear anywhere in the 95 pages. Republicans don’t like that word.
The report does, however, contain fascinating information, detailing a stunning, tragic failure of communication — perhaps some of it intentional — and a tangle of bureaucratic impediments that made it difficult to prepare and respond.
The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, for example, did not issue an adequate warning ahead of January 6, even though they had seen online threads with exhortations such as (on page 35), “Be Ready to Fight. Congress needs to hear glass breaking, doors being kicked in, and blood … spilled. Get violent … Go there ready for war.”
The report’s writers point to glaring failings and make good recommendations to avoid a “next time.” But they do not — they could not — look at the full picture if they wanted Republicans to sign the document.
Consider that some members of a party still dominated by Trump continue to claim that the mob that trashed the US Capitol that day, smashing windows and doors, crushing and otherwise attacking and injuring police officers — including one who died — and calling for the execution of Vice President Mike Pence, was as friendly as a group of tourists.
Indeed, millions of Republicans believe the ridiculous claim that, if there was a mob, it was made up of Trump foes. This, even though the Capitol throbbed with the chant of “Fight for Trump!” as rampaging attackers tried to keep the defeated President in power, and even though Trump praised his violent supporters (“We love you,” he said while the assault was in progress), calling them “very special” people.
It’s commendable that with Republicans dead set against an independent investigative commission, Democrats still attempted to craft a bipartisan vehicle to look into this pivotal moment in US history. Several committees are going forward with further investigation. (And Tuesday, after the report was released, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer restated his call for a bipartisan January 6 commission.)
The effort that produced this new report — a joint product of the Senate Homeland Security and Rules committees — had narrowed its scope to “security, planning and response failures” by law enforcement. It’s an interesting and useful document. But it purposely looks at the world through a thin straw. According to staffers, each word of it was chosen to make sure Republicans would sign on.
Let’s face it, most Republicans are not prepared to liberate themselves from their Trumpian shackles. Only George Orwell could have predicted what the party has become, a gathering of sycophants who deny what they personally endured. “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears,” he wrote in the dystopian novel “1984.” “It was their final, most essential command.” You can’t look for evidence if your instructions are to reject it.
That’s why the GOP already blocked the plan for a full-scale 9/11-style commission.
But just because one party is controlled by people who refuse to look for the truth, there is no reason to stop the quest. It is imperative that the United States reckon with what happened, that it learn from history so it can avoid repeating it.
Congress can put together flawed, piecemeal efforts. But to do this right, the job has to go to a different branch of government, one not in the grip of the former President’s malign manipulations.
President Joe Biden should establish a presidential commission of respected individuals that the public can trust as patriots rather than partisans. They exist. It’s a big country. They should be empowered to subpoena witnesses, to hire staff, to aim an investigator’s flashlight into the dark halls of this disaster — and follow it wherever it leads.