But certain congressional investigations over the years have served a very important purpose. A prime example: the 1973-1974 Watergate hearings. The Senate committee that investigated the Watergate burglary and subsequent cover-up, and the House Judiciary Committee whose hearing on impeachment followed, were composed of dedicated members of both political parties.
Yes, there were members like Indiana’s own congressman Earl Landgrebe, who went down in history for blurting out, “Don’t confuse me with the facts” when his strong pro-Nixon bias was challenged. But there were other Republicans who put country before party and were willing to reconsider their initial belief in President Nixon’s innocence when confronted with incontrovertible facts to the contrary.
The Republican Party, to no surprise, suffered grievous losses in the 1974 election after Nixon resigned in the face of certain impeachment and removal from office. But our democracy was stronger as a result.
In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on our country, an independent investigative commission was formed by Congress to examine what was behind the attacks, the intelligence and preparedness failures that permitted them to occur, and the communications failures that complicated the response of law enforcement.
The bipartisan 9/11 Commission did a masterful job of unwinding all these issues and making important recommendations to protect our country and its people in the future. Specifically, it found that failures on the part of the FBI and CIA enabled the terrorists to succeed. Both agencies consequently underwent considerable revision in order to prevent such failures in the future. We are all safer as a result.
The first breach of the U.S. Capitol since the War of 1812 should very naturally lead to another independent investigative commission sanctioned by Congress. Again, we had people who strongly believe in a cause attacking the functions of democracy and threatening the lives of American officials—and a failure of intelligence, preparedness and communications that allowed the breach to occur almost unhindered. We also have a clear and continuing threat to the safety of our public officials and the operation of government.
But this time, when a bipartisan independent commission was suggested to analyze the causes of the attack and the failures of the institutions of government to prevent it and/or defend the Capitol, the leadership of my party refused to participate. And when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi subsequently created a congressional investigative committee, my party again, at least initially, resisted.
I understand the basis of the resistance: a legitimate fear by Republicans that publicizing the facts of Jan. 6 will hurt our party in the 2022 elections and keep us from regaining the majority in both houses of Congress.
But some things are more important than politics. Critical questions about the failures on the part of the FBI, the Capitol police, the Defense Department and others must be answered. And despite my great respect for those agencies, they cannot reasonably investigate themselves. The nature of the continuing threat by far-right extremists must also be fully understood.
We cannot make this a political exercise—on either side. But we cannot ignore and wish it away, either. The future of our country is at stake.•
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