April 24, 2021

We Need a January 6th Presidential Commission

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

Do it and Do it Right.

The nation needs an independent Presidential Commission, a board of inquiry, to determine the origins, the planning, and, of course, the ultimate objectives of the January 6th Capitol insurrection. Why a Presidential Commission? Simply because Congress is hopelessly partisan and polarized and not in a position to conduct such an inquiry with the credibility the task requires if it is to be constructive.

Sure, one could, and will, allege the same about a Commission empaneled by President Biden or any President. However, a credible presidential board of inquiry would consist of an exemplary panel of qualified, respected, and accomplished men and women. They should be above reproach and equally representative of both parties and who are not currently in elected office and, therefore, are not subject to the exigencies of election campaigns or other partisan political considerations. The Commission would consist of men and women who would be unimpressed, unafraid, and undeterred by the fulminations of House Speaker Pelosi, House Minority leader McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Schumer, Senate Minority leader McConnell and certainly not former President Trump.

This much seems clear; the insurrection was an attempt to stop (think overthrow) the results of the 2020 Presidential election, which is tantamount to overthrowing the government (elect) of the United States. The nation needs to identify those who planned it, what the objectives were (and probably continues to be), and the extent of the involvement, if any, of individuals affiliated in any way with the United States government. Finally, we need to ensure that such an outrageous lapse in security never happens again.

We must achieve unvarnished fact-finding, free of fear, free of political grandiosity, and free of preconceived conclusions. We need to establish the extent to which those who stormed the Capitol were motivated by organizations or movements representing either the far right or, as some still assert, the far left. We simply need to know. We need to pursue the truth as though the future of our democracy depends on it because it does.

So, how-to, and not-to, proceed.

Given the extreme polarization permeating Congress and the impending need for every member of the House of Representatives and a third of the Senate to campaign for reelection, this Commission must be as far removed from partisan politics as possible. It would be folly in the current political climate to have anyone running for office to be among the Commissioners serving on such a board of inquiry.

Violence aimed at the heart of the United States, whether domestic or foreign, is nothing new for our country. That’s why we had a Roberts Commission following Pearl Harbor, a Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy, and a Kerner Commission to study the urban uprisings in the 1960s. The 1983 Beirut bombings and the horror of 9/11 also prompted the creation of special Commissions. None were flawless, but nor were they dominated by partisan maneuvering and manipulation that would be almost certain to hound and shame such an investigation conducted in today’s highly partisan House or Senate.  

The Republican leadership in both the House and Senate has already suggested that the January 6th insurrection was not much different from the widespread urban disorders of last summer. Therefore, they argue, any investigation should encompass all the turmoil of the 2020 season of turmoil. Nice try, but no cigar.

January 6th was a horror of its own, and it could have cost us everything. Concurrently, I hasten to add, the urban disorders of the past year and the response at the local and state level do indeed warrant a serious, non-partisan inquiry as well. Still, the efforts to conflate the two phenomena are wrong, politically calculated, and reckless.

A distinctive and serious presidential Commission will deserve and will assume a mantel of dignity as it works to provide an accurate historical record of the calamitous events of January 6th. Such dignity, sadly, has not lately, nor often, been ascribed to the deliberations of our Congress.

A January 6th, 2021 Commission, like the September 11th, 2001 Commission, would provide a detailed chronology of relevant events leading up to the calamity. The Commission would investigate the extent to which the January 6th storming of the Capitol was pre-planned, and orchestrated, and would examine the extent to which political turmoil was engendered and coordinated by those planning the insurrection. Such an inquiry would provide an account of the planning of the insurrection and of the events that unfolded in the hours before the crowd gathered, as well as the calamitous events that followed the so-called “Save America Rally,” aka “March to Save America,” aka the “Stop the Steal Rally,” featuring the former President, his son and the former President’s attorney, Rudi Guiliani, among others. The Commission would determine the extent to which the disorders at the Capitol were consistent with the objectives of those who planned the rally at the Ellipse on the national mall, just south of the White House.

I am not suggesting that a presidential Commission will heal the deep political divide in our country. Still, a well-planned and well organized and staffed presidential Commission can provide an understanding of how malicious misinformation can spin out of control in this age when so much of America is divided into easily manipulated thought silos. The country needs to know who the perpetrators were, the extent of their coordination of the events of January 6th, and, perhaps equally important, why help was so late in arriving.

America cannot afford another January 6th.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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15 responses to “We Need a January 6th Presidential Commission”

  1. Prover Stephen E. says:

    I’ll second that motion!!

  2. Ray Galante says:

    Trump, Trump, Trump…..Right-wing crazies, sheepishly following this insurrectionist, unbothered by democratic principles. Imagine United States Congress almost voting to void a Presidential election outcome? Trump threatening Pence to jeopardize election results with a quiet, fearfully afraid of Trump Republican Party shrinking in fear of his backlash. Commission? Major challenge selecting non-partisan members.

  3. Jerry Mathews says:

    Your comments are well considered and eloquent. I will be forwarding this to friends, unfortunately many to no avail.

  4. Carol Frankel says:

    Thank you, Hal. I will be forwarding your spot-on essay to my elected Ohio representatives. I am wondering if you think the commission might include noted presidential historians like Jon Meacham, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Michael Beschloss.

  5. mike says:

    When I saw the title I couldn’t help but think “surely you jest!”
    With everything going on, surely you can’t be serious. But But sadly, you are serious and you take a step back and take a look at what has happened since January 20 – not January 6.

    You have a crisis at the Border, a farcical climate change Summit, tensions flaring in the Middle East as Israel sees more rockets and Biden apparently easing Iranian sanctions, supply chains in meltdown and a seriously flawed infrastructure bill, an unnecessary 1.9 trillion dollar relief plan and the inflationary threat posed by MMT, a Democratic Congress that is actually passing the “progressive” (a.k.a. left) leaning legislation they talked about (e.g, HR 1, DC Statehood, packing the Supreme Court, etc….), gas prices up by around $.50 since January 20, the likely passage of the most significant tax increase in our lifetimes, an emboldened Chinese Government that is acting ominously in the South China Sea and towards Taiwan… the list goes on and on, and you think we need to devote time and money to a January 6th Commission.

    News Flash Hal: The wicked witch, a.k.a. Donald Trump is gone. And while you want to obsess about January 6th, you have places like Minneapolis and Portland living with constant social unrest. With 43 people shot and killed in Chicago in April, along with another 202 wounded (per heyjackass.com), and the unraveling of the social fabric in this country, how about a column that the real BLM Agenda the real impact of defunding the police or LeBron James targeting (via Twitter) a police officer in Columbus who shot and killed a knife wielding 16 year old girl who was perilously close to killing another girl.

    It’s apparent how much you miss your late partner. The columns the two of you used to write were meaningful, relevant and substantive. Your columns for the last several months have in one form or another, talked about how bad Trump was, why Trump supporters (but nary a word on Antifa) are rubes, and other matters that overlook some truly substantive issues.

    Hope you can get back to addressing truly important issues

  6. Response to Mike: I assure Mike these columns will continue to focus on important issues as it has for the past twelve years. No doubt Mike and others are dismissive of January 6th as an important issue, As this column makes clear, however, I consider the attack on the Capitol and the attempt to overthrow the election and to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power to be a historic tragedy. We ignore it at our own peril.

  7. Marnie. Miller says:

    Hal: Your answer to Mike is “right on”. Granted we have many major problems but none are as bad as what could have happened on January 6th. Keep writing!

  8. Michael says:


    This is not to suggest for a moment that the events on January 6 were not consequential. Personally, I think Trump, Giuliani and others made extremely poor decisions as part of their
    “Stop the Steal” campaign. That said, I think the magnitude of the event itself has been played up and distorted. For example, the Capital Hill officer, Brian Sicknick died from a stroke and was not bashed in the head with a fire extinguisher as reported by the NYT and Wash Post. Still a tragic and unnecessary death. Four other people died, three from natural causes and one was shot.

    If you really want a commission, then perhaps that commission will look into why the FBI and the Justice Department are Withholding information about why the Capital was left with minimal security forces prior to the attack when they had intelligence reports highlighting the risk to the capital. Perhaps the commission will also look into which groups were responsible for creating the mass frenzy.

    So Hal, I am not being dismissive about this event. However, each year hundreds of citizens have been killed in cities with arguably the toughest gun control laws. A disproportionate percentage of the citizens are African-American. In places like Los Angeles, St. Louis, Chicago and Baltimore you have prosecutors Who are failing to prosecute crimes that they deem to be low level. So car jacking, robberies and other “low level” crimes are skyrocketing while BLM and members of the Squad call for defunding the police. And don’t get me started about how our public education system is failing kids of color. Any columns in the offing about these issues and the massive unraveling of our social networks and values? Maybe if Trump would get involved, we could get you to rail against these things. Who knows? Stranger things have happened .

    • Reply to Mike: Perhaps I misinterpreted Mike’s concluding comment, “Hope you can get back to addressing truly important issues,” as suggesting that he didn’t think the Capitol insurrection was important. Mike’s clarification is appreciated.
      While officer Sicknick did, indeed, die of a stroke, to rationalize that the stress of defending the Capitol during the riot and the stroke he suffered later that day were unrelated stretches credulity, especially given that he complained of not feeling well after being attacked defending the Capitol during the riot. Mike is correct in stating that the press reports were incorrect of his tragic death being the result of being hit with a fire extinguisher. Fire extinguishers were reportedly thrown down by the rioters from above, but none struck officer Sicknick.
      This column has in the past, and will in the future, continue to address a wide range of topics including various of the issues Mike references.
      Finally, as Mike suggests, I do indeed miss my late writing partner, Steve Porter. Only I, and a few others who were close to Steve, know how he would have viewed President Trump’s impact on American Democracy, and how he would have addressed that subject.

  9. Michael Gong says:

    The events of 1/6 were as close as I’ve ever come to witnessing another Bastille Day. When I first enrolled in college I was required to take a “loyalty oath” swearing that I had never been a member of the Communist party. Unconstitutional? None of your damn business? Apparently not, because it was known that the Communists were committed to the violent overthrow of government, which of course would be treasonous, the same as Bastille Day, the American Revolution or the Civil War. Obviously 1/6 was a very big deal not to be forgotten or taken lightly. There are many other issues currently that must be addressed and taken very seriously, but none can begin to compare with an attempt to violently overthrow the US Congress, the locus of our form of government while it was performing it’s constitutional duty to certify a free election, the symbolic event of a democracy. Nothing “trumps” that. By

  10. BLb says:

    Three Cheers to Mike and Michael!! Totally agree!
    And agree that getting an impartial commission would be difficult.
    Jan 6th was horrible, no doubt. But since Jan 20th, as Mike enumerated, there are many more issues to address. However, as the weeks have rolled by, no one in this column (nor in our current administration) seems to address our Border Crisis!!!
    The agents, the victims, the citizens need the respect and acknowledgment of what’s happening!!

  11. Robert borns says:

    A commission would be a total waste of time. it seems with past commissions the good stuff is classified and kept secret. And inquiries such as the inspector general was making don’t seem to ever have a real conclusive disclosed end. And would anyone believe a result with politicians,newspapers,tv scoundrels Simply stating twisted lies. And I thought that fact finding was the job of the fbi. Oops I forget they have a truth problem at the top. And would you maybe let the distinguish nancy pelosi or aunti Maxine. Or congressman Johnson appoint the committee. Oops I forgot he thought Guam might tip over if we lengthened the runway. Excuse me for joking but things have become a tragic Comedy. But the jokes on us.

  12. Charles Anderson says:

    It remains beyond comprehension that so many people in this country dismiss the events of 1/6/21 as a ‘one off’, an aberration in our history. 1/6/21 will go down in American in American history as one of a very few serious threats to continuation of our democracy; other such events would of course be the Civil War, 1865 and the attempts to reverse the results of the war, and the firing of Douglas McArthur preserving the civilian control of the military.
    Anyone who has read the history Germany of 1930 -1935 during which the Nazi party slowly commandeered the German democracy will note that as events unfolded many, perhaps most Germans thought as do Mike, Michael, Blb & Robert Borns that the brown shirt abuses were no threat. We all know how that turned out.
    Thank you Hal for having learned from history when apparently some of your readers did not.

  13. Robert borns says:

    Charles you are backwards and wrong. Our nations principal problems aren’t fools wearing funny hats. The nazi followers are those practicing cancel culture,thos cheering when Twitter eliminates legitimate opinions. Those rioting and looting cities,allowing the slaughter of blacks in our cities by other blacks. Those talking like old fashioned racists but against whites, those who talk great but allow mediocre schools in the cities. Those who patronize papers like th ny times that had Barrie Weiss leave because she was Jewish for israel. No I am not afraid of the capital riots like you are. I am afraid of what appears to be a mass of people putting up with our version of the nazi playbook.

  14. Carole Sukman says:

    I can’t help but agree with Robert Borns.

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