INDIANAPOLIS — The catastrophic events prior to the Sept. 11 foreign terror attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the demise of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania occurred in a time of consequential political instability. The 2000 presidential election between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore was a virtual tie, and wasn’t decided until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Florida recount on behalf of the governor.
Gore was understandably dejected, but conceded on Dec. 13, saying, “I accept the finality of the outcome, which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”
Ten months later came the terror attacks that killed more than 3,000 Americans. In 2002, President Bush created an independent commission to study what happened and make recommendations to shore up the nation’s defenses. He ultimately chose former Republican New Jersey Gov. Tom Keane to chair the commission, Indiana Democratic U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton as vice chair, and former Hoosier congressman Tim Roemer to join the commission that included former senators, governors, a former Navy secretary and a former White House counsel.
Called to testify were Presidents Clinton and Bush41, Vice Presidents Dick Cheney and Gore, CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft and a number of former officials, including Madeleine Albright, William Cohen, Janet Reno and Rudy Giuliani.
Its final report was critical of the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies. One of its recommendations was the creation of the Director of National Intelligence to coordinate the sprawling 17 intel agencies, a post that eventually was held by former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats.
The creation of a subsequent Jan. 6 commission to investigate the insurrection to overturn the 2020 presidential election and assault of the U.S. Capitol seven months ago comes in a similar harrowed political environment. Today’s leaders seem to have traded in their limos and GMC Tahoes for a clown car, tumbling out of this crisis with a complete lack of gravity or intellect.
In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (and joined by Indiana Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun) torpedoed an independent commission designed along the lines of its Sept. 11 predecessor. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy pulled the rug out of a bipartisan plan in June that had been negotiated by Republican Rep. John Katko and Democrat Bennie Thompson, fearing the political fallout ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi created a Jan. 6 “select committee,” stocked it with Democrats and ousted GOP leader Liz Cheney. McCarthy waffled for almost a month, before making his five selections this week, including U.S. Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Jim Jordan of Ohio.
Pelosi retaliated on Wednesday, bouncing both Banks and Jordan six days before the committee was to meet for the first time. “With respect for the integrity of the investigation, with an insistence on the truth and with concern about statements made and actions taken by these Members, I must reject the recommendations of Reps. Banks and Jordan to the Select Committee,” Pelosi said in a statement on Wednesday. “The unprecedented nature of January 6th demands this unprecedented decision.”
Banks and Jordan both voted to overturn the election results on Jan. 6 and Pelosi said their appointments could impact “the integrity of the investigation.” Banks had made a pilgrimage to Bedminster where he met with former president Donald Trump, a potential witness, where he posed for one of those goofy “thumbs up” photo ops.
Appearing at a press conference with Banks and Jordan mid-day Wednesday, McCarthy said, “Denying the voices of members who have served in the military and law enforcement, as well as leaders of standing committees, has made it undeniable that this panel has lost all legitimacy and credibility. Unless Speaker Pelosi reverses course and seats all five Republican nominees, Republicans will not be party to their sham process and will instead pursue our own investigation of the facts.”
Banks, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, added, “This just goes to show how partisan this effort was all along, that Nancy Pelosi would take me and Jim Jordan first off of this committee, she knows we were prepared to fight to find the truth. She doesn’t want to go down that path. She knows we’re already asking questions during the first couple of days ... questions that Democrats never asked like why the Capitol was vulnerable that day when we had intelligence for weeks leading up to Jan. 6 that told us that something dangerous would happen on Jan. 6. She knew we would fight back against their political games. That’s why she didn’t want us to participate.”
Rep. Cheney supported Pelosi, saying, “I agree with what the speaker has done. At every opportunity, the minority leader has sought to prevent the American people from understanding what happened; to block this investigation. This investigation must go forward.”
Cheney said that Banks was using the panel as a political platform, which she called “disgraceful.”
All of today’s leaders swore an oath to protect the United States from enemies “both foreign and domestic” and are flunking the ultimate civics test.
The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.