Proposed bipartisan probe of deadly U.S. Capitol attack wins support

(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Security fences, erected following the January 6th attack, are seen surrounding the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Susan Heavey and Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A key Democrat and Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives reached a deal to form a bipartisan commission to investigate the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters, the lawmakers said on Friday.

Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Republican ranking member John Katko said they would introduce legislation as soon as next week to set up the investigative panel modeled after the one used to probe the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“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,” Thompson said in a statement. “Inaction – or just moving on – is simply not an option.”

In a separate statement, Katko said the Capitol remained a target for extremists. “This is about facts, not partisan politics,” he said.

Hundreds of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 as Congress was meeting to certify Joe Biden’s presidential election victory. They fought with police and sent lawmakers running for cover after smashing windows to enter the building. The violence left five dead, including a Capitol Police officer.

Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, told reporters that he had not signed off on the lawmakers’ deal and said the commission should look at events that came before and after Jan. 6, including an unrelated incident in April when a motorist rammed a car into a pair of Capitol Police officers, killing one.

The Jan. 6 riot followed a fiery speech in which then-President Trump falsely alleged that his election defeat was the result of widespread voter fraud, a claim that has been dismissed by multiple courts, state election officials and his own administration’s review.

In the immediate aftermath of the riot, multiple Republicans condemned Trump’s words. Out of office, he has doubled down on his false claims of fraud, which multiple Republican-controlled state legislatures have cited as a justification for passing new restrictions on voting.

The House Republican caucus this week stripped Representative Liz Cheney of her party leadership role because she loudly rejected Trump’s “big lie.” On Friday, they elected a Trump-picked candidate, Elise Stefanik, to succeed her.

Cheney praised the step towards creating a bipartisan commission.

“All members, especially House and Senate leaders, should support this effort and there should be no delay in passing this bill to find the facts and the truth about what happened on January 6th and the events leading up to it,” Cheney said.

Some congressional Republicans have denied key details of Jan. 6 or downplayed the violence that led to Trump’s second impeachment trial on a charge of inciting insurrection.

In a hearing on the incident on Wednesday, Andrew Clyde, a lawmaker from Georgia, said calling the incident an insurrection was a “bold-faced lie” and likened participants to “a normal tourist visit.”

More than 400 people have been arrested for taking part in the riot.

Like the Sept. 11 panel, the proposed 10-member panel would have five commissioners appointed by each party as well as subpoena authority. Its report and “recommendations to prevent future attacks on our democratic institutions” would be due by Dec. 31, the lawmakers said.

Both the House and the Senate would have to approve the bill that sets up the commission, which would then go to Biden to sign into law.

A police officer who was beaten by a pro-Trump mob and tasered several times in the back of his neck during the riot last week pleaded in an open letter to members of Congress not to downplay the day’s violence.

“I struggle daily with the emotional anxiety of having survived such a traumatic event but I also struggle with the anxiety of hearing those who continue to downplay the events of that day,” Washington Metropolitan police officer Mike Fanone wrote. “The indifference … is disgraceful.”