Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson to head investigation of the January 6th Capitol insurrection

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Congressman Bennie Thompson

The entire world knows that on January 6, 2021 an organized group of thousands descended upon the U.S. Capitol, determined to halt the certification of the electoral college vote that would transfer the power of the presidency from Donald Trump to Joe Biden and the vice presidency from Mike Pence to Kamala Harris. They had been urged on by Trump himself and Trump had been advised to declare a state of emergency and use the military to block the transfer of power. In short, virtually everybody knows that what was attempted was a coup d’etat.

The actions during the first week of January were condemned by even Republican leaders such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham because they recognized them for what they were. Even House Minority Kevin McCarthy let it be known that he had tried to get Trump to send National Guards to help put down the insurrection.

Within weeks, however, the attitude of Republican leaders had changed. One congressman, Georgia Representative Andrew Clyde, even claimed that the mob attack was no more than a peaceful protest and could have been mistaken as another group of tourists visiting the Capitol. It was in this context that Republicans in the Senate and the House closed ranks to oppose any investigation of the January 6th insurrection.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had proposed an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the activities leading up to the attack, the actions of the attack itself, who was involved in planning and coordinating the attack, how it was financed, and what actions were planned to follow the attack. The House approved the creation of such a commission by a vote along party lines, 252 Democrats to 175 Republicans. The proposal then went to the Senate where it was blocked from a floor vote by the Republicans using the filibuster. Under that condition, the proposal was defeated by a vote of 54 to 35.

Rather than settling for the defeat, Speaker Pelosi then proposed creating a House Select Committee to conduct the investigation. The House gave its authority to the idea by another party-line vote, 222 Democrats to 190 Republicans. The House Select Committee does not require Senate concurrence of approval.

It is this House Select Committee on the January 6th insurrection that Congressman Bennie Thompson has been selected to chair. Thompson was apparently chosen to head the committee not only because he heads the Homeland Security Committee, but because he has shown himself to be a strong straight-shooter and has the confidence of Pelosi and the Democratic congressional leaders to do a competent and thorough job.

To assist Thompson in carrying out the assignment will be eight congresspersons appointed by Pelosi and five recommended by minority leader McCarthy. Thus far, Pelosi has named Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi as chair; Adam Schiff of California, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee; Zoe Lofgren of California, who chairs the Administration Committee, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who led the Impeachment Managers when Trump was impeached in January; Elaine Luria of Virginia; Stephanie Murphy of Florida; Pete Aguilar of California; and Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a former Republican Caucus Leader.

The five congresspersons to be recommended by leader McCarthy have not been named as of this writing. Furthermore, it is not clear whether he will name them, since he has threatened to remove, from their Republican Caucus-approved committee assignments, any Republican named by Pelosi to serve on the select committee and since the majority of the Republicans oppose the idea of the investigation in the first place.

Indeed, the machinations of the Republican leadership have been easier to follow than to understand. For an example, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy early on appointed Republican Congressman John Katko of New York to work with Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson to develop a set of guidelines for the independent investigating commission, but backed away from the idea once the proposed legislation was drafted. In addition, there was apparently no plan on the part of the House Republican leaders to urge support for the proposal nor any similar conversation between Senate and House Republican leaders.

Nevertheless, Thompson says that the committee’s work has already begun. Rather than taking a Fourth of July holiday break, he oversaw the securing of office space and organizing of staff for the committee’s work.

Once fully operational, the committee will have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents. It, perhaps, will receive testimony from law enforcement officials from the Capitol DC Metro police forces; from members of such white nationalist groups as the Three Percenters, the Proud Boys, the Oath-Keepers, and QAnon, who have been identified via surveillance videos; from such known supportive political leaders as Mo Brooks and Josh Hawley; and from House and congressional staff members, who may have knowledge of any advanced planning and/or surveillance of the Capitol prior to the attack.

One has to wonder, and Americans need to know, how deeply and systematically involved in the attempted coup were people from the Republican Party, the donor class of Trump supporters, government officials and employees, and right-wing terrorist groups. Hopefully, Thompson and his committee will be able to get to the bottom of it before more authoritarian and coup sympathizers become a part of the government as legislators, judges or employees, and before such insurrectionists can strike again.