What happened on Jan. 6 is self-evident: supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump
attacked the Capitol because he claimed the 2020 election
was stolen from him.
But there are some questions that require authoritative answers, such as what the president did before and during the Capitol attack, why the National Guard
did not arrive until several hours after the riot began, and what must be done to prevent another insurgency.
The House Democrats
voted Wednesday to establish a bipartisan commission
to investigate the Jan. 6 attack, similar to the commission that investigated 9/11 and made several recommendations, including the creation of a new director of national intelligence position to oversee federal intelligence agencies.
According to the Congressional Research
Service, lawmakers have established more than 150 commissions since 1989, with the majority of them being staffed by well-known policy experts rather than lawmakers.
In addition to making recommendations, commissions can provide authoritative accounts of major events in a way that lawmakers cannot, both because most people
dislike Congress and because lawmakers may have short-term political goals that make the truth inconvenient.
“The deeper value to society will transcend whatever partisan values appear to be important at the time,” said Scott Knowles, a disaster historian.
Despite the fact that this commission is intended to investigate an attack on members of the commission at their workplace
, most Republicans oppose it, claiming it is partisan and intended to harm Trump, who remains a major influence in the party despite his scandal-plagued, one-term presidency.
Plus, they argue, who needs it? The Capitol attack is already being investigated by law enforcement, which is prosecuting those who breached the building, and Congress has held hearings on it; however, the same was true of previous commissions. The 9/11 terrorist attacks were being investigated by law enforcement and congressional committees; that didn't stop Congress from forming its commission.
As Knowles pointed out, it's impossible to predict what a commission might discover. "You can't always predict what they're going to find, like any kind of investigation
," he said.
However, there are significant unanswered questions about the attack that require further investigation.
What did Trump do, or did not do, to quell the riot?
During a phone call, Trump reportedly told House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy
(Calif.) that the rioters were left-wing agitators, and when McCarthy pointed out that they were Trump supporters
, Trump reportedly said, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.”
This is according to Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Washington), who spoke with McCarthy shortly after Trump.
“To the patriots who were standing next to the former president, or even the former vice president: if you have something to add here, now would be the time,” Herrera Beutler said in a February statement. (She voted in favor of forming the commission last week.)
McCarthy hasn't said much about the conversation, but he said Thursday that if a commission asked him, he'd testify about it.
Other Republicans, including Rep. Jim Jordan
), said they spoke with Trump that day, as did Sen. Lindsey Graham
(R-S.C.), who said he spoke with Ivanka Trump
, Trump's daughter and adviser, to persuade the president to call off the attack on the Capitol. An unknown number of Republicans also spoke with White House
chief of staff Mark Meadows as the attack unfolded.
What did these Republicans say to Trump and his advisers, and what did Trump and his advisers say back?
During the insurgency, Trump reportedly attempted to call Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), but instead reached Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who handed the phone to Tuberville, who says he quickly ended the call.
What was Trump's motivation for attempting to contact Tuberville, and how was he feeling?
What was the reaction of Republicans?
One reason for the commission's formation is that many members of Congress were intimately involved in the events leading up to and on that day.
Tuberville, for example, who Trump called during the insurgency, attended a Trump fundraiser at the president's hotel on the eve of the insurgency, and photographs and reports by attendees placed Tuberville in the same rooms as many insurgency supporters, including Donald Trump Jr
., former national security adviser Michael Flynn
, and My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell
Other Republicans have been implicated in the day's events by insurgency planners. Ali Alexander, a lead organizer of the “Save America” rally that preceded the siege who has been in hiding to avoid potential criminal charges, claimed that GOP
Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Paul Gosar (Ariz.), and Mo Brooks (Ala.) assisted him in planning it.
“We four devised a plan to put maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting
,” Alexander said in a since-deleted video posted following the insurgency.
Gosar attended the Jan. 6 rally and tweeted photos
of the crowd, tagging Alexander. He previously spoke at a “Stop The Steal” rally hosted by Alexander in Arizona
in December, which included a video featuring Biggs.
According to CNN
, Biggs and Gosar reportedly requested preemptive pardons from Trump at the end of his presidency for any possible crimes they committed during the insurgency.
What role did these congressmen play with Alexander and other rally organizers, and what crimes did they believe they committed that required pardons?
claims to be looking into communications between sitting lawmakers and insurrectionists around January 6
. The commission could look into ties and communications, whether intentional or not, between Republican lawmakers and insurrectionists as well.
The commission could look into Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene
's (R-Ga.) relationship with her close ally Anthony Aguero, who stormed the Capitol, as well as Rep. Lauren Boebert
's (R-Colo.) claims to have given tours to people in town for the Jan. 6 rally in the days leading up to it. Boebert also tweeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
's (D-Calif.) location as the attack unfolded.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass. ), a senior House Democrat, told Stardia that he was the last person off the House floor during the riot and saw rioters attempting to smash into the Speaker's Lobby as he left.
“What I'm concerned about, particularly the Minority Leader's behavior here in the House, and his embrace of some of his party's more extreme and QAnon elements, is that they're paving the way for this to happen again,” McGovern said.
Aside from Congress, the commission could look into the role of state and local elected officials in assisting the insurgency, as at least 57 of them were present during the insurgency, according to a Stardia report.
Who planned the attack, and how did it come together?
Although law enforcement investigations have revealed more about the insurrectionists, there are still many questions about how the Capitol attack was planned. Was it, as some suggest, a protest that went off the rails for most of the participants, who showed up planning to rally and then stormed a building? Or did organizers always plan for something bigger?
An investigation into the rally's planning and funding will need to look into who planned it and who funded it. Which of the organizers and funders were aware of plans to march on the Capitol when they paid for the rally and buses bringing people from all over the country? What discussions took place in Congress to undermine the peaceful transfer of power when the insurgency began?
Some donors are known, including Publix Super Market heir Julie Jenkins Fancelli, who reportedly gave $300,000 to fund the rally at the urging of right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who delivered a speech to the crowd on the Capitol steps.
It may also be necessary to determine whether certain notable figures were involved in the planning. For example, what role did former Trump adviser Roger Stone, whom Trump pardoned just days before the insurgency, play in the events surrounding Jan. 6? The same goes for Flynn, whom Trump also pardoned.
There are also concerns about the extent to which members of the military
and law enforcement were involved in the rally; while many have been arrested, a more thorough investigation could provide answers to important questions about extremist elements within the military and law enforcement.
What preparations did Capitol police
and the National Guard make?
Another major question is what the Capitol Police did to prepare. As of Dec. 31, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser requested National Guard assistance for Jan. 6, and troops were approved to be stationed throughout the city.
The request did not apply to the Capitol building, which is under federal jurisdiction. Christopher Miller
, Trump's acting defense secretary at the time, told Congress that he was concerned that sending troops to the Capitol building on January 6 would spark fears of a military coup.
Steven Sund, the Capitol Police chief at the time, told The Washington Post
that he asked congressional security officials for permission to request that the D.C. National Guard be placed on standby, but they turned him down. Sund, who resigned after the attack, said that House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving told him that he was uncomfortable with the "optics" of formally declaring an emergency before the attack.
Despite widespread knowledge of the protests, Capitol police staffing was as usual on the day of the attack. Officers told The Associated Press
that police leaders gave them little information about what to expect on the morning of Jan. 6, and no instructions on what to do when the attack began.
When protesters began pushing up against Capitol police after 1 p.m., the police chief requested National Guard assistance, which took more than three hours, according to Maj. Gen. William Walker, commanding general of the D.C. National Guard.
Finally, at 5:08 p.m., Walker stated that he had received word that troops could be deployed to the Capitol, and National Guard troops arrived at the Capitol building at 5:20 p.m.
Current and former leaders have provided some explanations for the delay, but there is still much more to learn and changes to make to avoid a similar reaction in the future.
Republicans, too, are perplexed.
Although most Republicans are framing the investigation as a partisan witch hunt, GOP Rep. Stephanie Bice (Okla.), who voted in favor of the commission, pointed out that it could also target Democrats.
“There are important questions to be answered about Nancy Pelosi’s involvement in the decision to deny an activation request for the D.C. National Guard to attack the Capitol,” she said in a video posted to Twitter
Bice went on to say that the commission should look into the fatal police shooting
of Ashli Babbitt, a rioter inside the Capitol, as well as why some of those arrested for their involvement are being held in solitary confinement.
In other words, Republicans, like Democrats, are still puzzled by what happened.
“I believe we are entitled to answers to these critical questions,” Bice stated.