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Esper, McMaster, Panetta endorse 9/11-style commission to investigate Jan. 6 storming

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper delivers a speech during the Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Md., Sept. 18, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Wayne Clark)

Two of former President Donald Trump’s top national security officials called for a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 storming at the U.S. Capitol.

Mark Esper, one of Trump’s defense secretaries, and H.R. McMaster, one of his national security advisors, joined Leon Panetta, an Obama administration defense secretary and CIA director, in calling for the panel during a virtual Reagan Institute event.

“It was a very important historical event that people will study for decades to come — and not a positive one,” Esper said. “We need to have serious people, independent people take a look at this, just like the 9/11 Commission.”

Last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the House would move to create an independent panel similar to the one that investigated the 2001 terror attacks.

“This is a major historical event in the history of the United States, and we better damn well take a very close look at just exactly what happened? How was it inspired? How did it take place? How can we prevent that kind of event from happening?” Panetta said.

Panetta said the panel should be divided equally among Democrats and Republicans with two chairman “of good reputation to be able to handle that kind of very serious commission effort.”

Esper said the panel should look beyond Jan. 6 — the day a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in a bid to prevent lawmakers from certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory — to determine what drove the attacks.

“We need to really broaden it out and understand what is the root of this? What is the nature of extremism in the country? How is it evolving and changing? And how do we address that? Not necessarily the details of when were the police called or when was the National Guard called etc.,” Esper said. “Broaden it out, take the deeper look, because these are important trend lines that we need to understand and we can’t reverse them until we understand them.”

McMaster, a retired three-star Army general, said the commission should also look at politicians’ role in the insurrection.

“One of the causes of the assault on the Capitol was politicians — the President [Trump] foremost among them — who are thinking are increasingly prone to compromise our principles to score partisan political points,” he said. “I hope that the Commission will also maybe define our political leadership broadly as part of the problem, and then of course, those who are also responsible for addressing this problem and restoring our confidence in our democratic principles and institutions and processes.”


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