9/11 Commission Members Think a Capitol Riot Review Can Unify the Country—If It's Done Right

Congress wrapped up Donald Trump's second impeachment trial this past weekend in its acquittal of the former president of incitement of insurrection. But questions remain over what led to the January 6 attack.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Monday that Congress would move to establish an independent commission to investigate the causes of the riot and report on the facts.

"It is clear from his findings and from the impeachment trial that we must get to the truth of how this happened," Pelosi wrote in a letter to her Democratic colleagues.

The commission, she said, would be similar to the bipartisan body that studied the 9/11 terrorist attacks for 15 months. That panel issued a sweeping 585-page report, which led to the passage of dozens of new initiatives to strengthen U.S. intelligence.

Former members of the 9/11 commission told Newsweek they support the formation of an independent panel to look into the Capitol riot. Not only was it necessary, they argued, but it could also be a unifying force for the nation.

"I think the country needs it," said Thomas Kean, the chair of the 9/11 commission and former governor of New Jersey. "There's a lot of unanswered questions. There's still some conspiracy rumors out there that may or may not be true...It just seems to me that it's exactly the kind of national problem that requires this kind of commission."

Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman and member of the 9/11 commission, said the country needs to "get to the bottom" of what happened on January 6—including what led up to it, whether white supremacist or domestic terrorist groups were involved, and what role former President Donald Trump played.

Lawmakers should also consider a provision that would allow the independent commission to look at measures to strengthen Congress as an institution, Roemer said, both in terms of physical security and rebuilding trust with the American people.

"We need to try to find ways to show the American people that bipartisanship and commonality and respect work, just as it did on the 9/11 commission 20 years ago," Roemer said. He added that the new commission will have "an obligation to do this and try to heal the divide and the wounds and the toxicity."

The 9/11 commission was made up of five Republicans and five Democrats, all of whom were private citizens at the time. Kean said who Congress chooses to appoint to the Capitol riot commission will be "absolutely essential to its success," suggesting they select people who will put country first over party.

He also advised lawmakers to give the commission an adequate amount of time and money, as well as subpoena power, to thoroughly investigate and compile their findings.

"If you do it right, I think you can have the right end," Kean said, "which is a more unified country and a report that is going to tell people exactly what happened and recommendations that are good enough to make sure it doesn't happen again."

pro-Trump supporters during Capitol attacak
Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Trump supporters gathered in the nation's capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over Trump in the 2020 election. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called for an independent commission to investigate what happened on January 6. Samuel Corum/Getty

An independent panel on the Capitol siege, like the 9/11 panel, would need to be approved through legislation and signed by President Joe Biden. Lawmakers may disagree on who should sit on the commission, but the idea has gained support from members of both parties.

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) have both backed the creation of a bipartisan commission, arguing that there are more questions that need to be answered. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told ABC News over the weekend that "there's still more evidence that the American people need and deserve to hear."

Biden also backs Pelosi's plans for an independent commission, the White House said on Tuesday. Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the president would defer to Congress to decide the tenets of the investigation, adding that the White House has a "role to play" with separate investigations from the Department of Justice.

"He supports efforts to move forward with it, the desire to have one, certainly understanding and knowing how much the events on the 6th impacted members sitting on the Hill," Psaki said.

Thousands of Trump supporters gathered in Washington D.C. on January 6 to protest the congressional certification of Biden's victory. Five people died during the Capitol attack, including one law enforcement officer. Two officers died by suicide after responding to the siege and helping fight the mob.

"The United States Capitol is not only a symbol to us, but it's a symbol to the rest of the world," Kean said. "We have to make sure not only that we find out what happened, but use the lessons from the report so that it can never happen again."