U.S. lawmakers to vote on establishing commission to investigate Capitol riot

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House homeland security committee chair Bennie Thompson, shown in Washington, D.C., in September says it is imperative to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. (Chip Somodevilla/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)
House homeland security committee chair Bennie Thompson, shown in Washington, D.C., in September says it is imperative to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. (Chip Somodevilla/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)

Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chair of the House homeland security committee, announced in a statement with the ranking Republican member that a deal has been reached on the parameters of a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 events at the U.S. Capitol.

In a statement, Thompson and Republican John Katko said they would introduce legislation as soon as next week that would establish the commission.

"There has been a growing consensus that the January 6th attack is of a complexity and national significance that ... we need an independent commission to investigate," said Thompson in a statement.

"I am pleased that after many months of intensive discussion, Ranking Member Katko and I were able to reach a bipartisan agreement. Inaction — or just moving on — is simply not an option. The creation of this commission is our way of taking responsibility for protecting the U.S. Capitol."

As with the 9/11 Commission, the plan is for a 10-member panel, half chosen by Democratic leadership and half by the top Republicans in Congress. The commissioners are expected to have expertise in intelligence, cybersecurity, law enforcement and civil liberties, and not be current serving members in office or of government.

The panel would have subpoena power and issue a report before the end of 2021 on its findings on the causes of the Capitol riot as well as recommendations to prevent future attacks.

Some Republicans downplay attack

It's unclear how much buy-in there will be from Republican lawmakers.

A small but growing number of them this week propagated a false portrayal of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, arguing that the rioters who used flagpoles as weapons, beat police officers and chanted that they wanted to hang Vice-President Mike Pence were acting peacefully in their violent bid to overturn Joe Biden's election.

It's a turn of events that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, another target of the rioters, called "appalling" and "sick."

People are shown trying to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6. There have been about 400 arrests so far around the country in connection with the events in Washington that day.
People are shown trying to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6. There have been about 400 arrests so far around the country in connection with the events in Washington that day.(John Minchillo/The Associated Press)

One Republican at a House committee hearing Wednesday called the rioters a "mob of misfits." Another compared them to tourists. And a third suggested the sweeping federal investigation into the riot — which has yielded more than 400 arrests and counting — amounts to a national campaign of harassment.

"Let's be honest with the American people — it was not an insurrection, and we cannot call it that and be truthful," said Rep. Andrew Clyde, a Republican from Georgia serving his first term.

Clyde said one video feed of the rioters looked like they were on a "normal tourist visit."

Those in the video, taken in Statuary Hall, were able to enter the building after rioters broke through glass, pummeled officers and busted through the doors as lawmakers were frantically evacuated. They were headed to the House chamber where they tried to beat down the doors with lawmakers still inside.

Clyde wasn't the only Republican making that argument. Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar portrayed a woman who was shot and killed by Capitol Police as she tried to break through a door next to the House chamber as a martyr. He said Ashli Babbitt was "executed" and noted she was an Air Force veteran who was wearing an American flag. The Department of Justice decided after an investigation not to charge the police officer who shot her.

The Justice Department, Gosar said, is "harassing peaceful patriots across the country" as federal prosecutors file charges against hundreds of people who stormed the Capitol and participated in the riot.

Georgia Rep. Jody Hice also painted the rioters as the victims, noting that they were four of the people who died, including Babbitt. The other three suffered medical emergencies while part of the crowd laying siege to the Capitol.

"It was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day, not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others," Hice said.

A fifth person, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, collapsed immediately after the insurrection and died the next day. Video shows two men spraying him and another officer with a chemical, but the Washington medical examiner said Sicknick suffered a stroke and died from natural causes. The men have been charged with assaulting the officers.

Active-duty Marine charged on Thursday

The attempt to defend the insurrectionists comes as House Republicans voted to oust Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney from their leadership team for repeatedly rebuking Trump for his "Big Lie," the false claims that the election was stolen. Cheney voted with Democrats to impeach Trump for telling his supporters hours before the Jan. 6 attack to "fight like hell" to overturn Biden's win.

Cheney was replaced in that post on Friday by New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, who said after Republicans voted for her, "we are unified in working with President Trump."

Other Republicans — some quietly, some publicly — have made clear they don't agree with their colleagues.

"I was there," said Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, who was caught in security video being diverted away from the rioters by a police officer. "What happened was a violent effort to interfere with and prevent the constitutional order of installing a new president. And as such, it was an insurrection against the Constitution. It resulted in severe property damage, severe injuries and death."

The bill to be brought for a House vote on setting up a 9/11-style commission:

With respect to the Jan. 6 attack, an active-duty Marine Corps officer seen on camera scuffling with a police officer and helping other members of the pro-Trump mob force their way into the Capitol, was charged by federal prosecutors on Thursday.

Maj. Christopher Warnagiris, 40, of Woodbridge, Va., is the first active-duty service member to be charged in the insurrection, the Department of Justice said. Warnagiris, who has been stationed at Marine Corps Base Quantico since last summer, was arrested Thursday in Virginia, prosecutors said.

He faces charges including assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers, obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder and obstruction of justice.

The Marine Corps said in a statement that "there is no place for racial hatred or extremism" in its ranks.

The charges against the rioters overall range from misdemeanor offences, such as disorderly conduct in a restricted building, to serious conspiracy cases against members and associates of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers extremist groups.

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