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If at first you don’t succeed…Impeachment frontman Schiff mulls 9/11-like ’nonpartisan commission’ on coronavirus

If at first you don’t succeed…Impeachment frontman Schiff mulls 9/11-like ’nonpartisan commission’ on coronavirus
House Democrat Adam Schiff has called for a ‘nonpartisan’ probe modeled after the 9/11 Commission to find out what went wrong with the US response to Covid-19, an inquiry that will no doubt lead to President Donald Trump.

Schiff, who chairs the House intelligence committee, told the Washington Post about his plans in an interview, pledging to introduce a bill that would enact a nonpartisan commission to study “our mistakes” in dealing with the epidemic. The commission’s work, he said, would have to wait until after the crisis, but he assured the outlet his committee was already reviewing “intelligence materials” pertaining to the pandemic. 

The California Democrat would seem an unlikely pick to head a nonpartisan commission, however, given that he led the undeniably and extremely partisan impeachment inquiry against Trump that began in December and fizzled out in February - spanning the period in which the Trump administration’s response to the coronavirus began.

As the entire US political and media apparatus focused on dissecting the minutiae of the impeachment proceedings, people were getting sick and dying of a novel coronavirus that barely rated a mention in between the pageantry unfolding on Capitol Hill. Schiff and the Democrats had their plate full with theatrical hearings and grandstanding about the threat posed to capital-D Democracy by the Bad Orange Man. A House Foreign Affairs subcommittee only got around to holding a hearing on coronavirus after Trump’s acquittal in the Senate, in early February. 

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The partisan venom swirling in the Democrat-controlled House after it voted to impeach the president on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress certainly didn’t dissipate with that acquittal, however. It has been clear from the rhetoric of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders condemning Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis that they would like another bite at the apple.

A ‘nonpartisan’ commission hand-picked by Schiff would be a golden opportunity to definitively pin the responsibility on the Trump administration. Schiff’s interview with the Post hints at just such an intention, toying with the idea that Trump “discounted intelligence warnings because of concerns about the impact of the virus on his reelection campaign.”

Schiff is far from the first to compare the coronavirus outbreak to 9/11, and will certainly not be the last. Beyond the fact that the two events are responsible for massive numbers of American casualties, both also led to unprecedented incursions on Americans’ civil liberties and an epidemic of buck-passing, with every official in a position of responsibility scrambling to blame someone else. In both cases, those in power insisted there was no way they could have seen the crisis coming; in both cases, they had plenty of advance notice, from whistleblowers in one  or simply from reading the news in the other.

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The 9/11 Commission was widely panned for its members’ conflicts of interest, for its impotence in the face of perceived stonewalling by intelligence agencies and the Pentagon, and for failing to follow up on important aspects of the event, including the question of who financed the attacks and the collapse of the Salomon Brothers building.

Many both inside and outside of government, including victims’ families, have demanded a new investigation, with the 9/11 Commission report setting a low bar for future cases.

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