White House takes a hands-off approach on efforts to investigate the Capitol attack

WASHINGTON — President Biden announced a round of sanctions on Wednesday designed to target the “leaders who directed the coup” in Myanmar earlier this month, but he has been far less clear on the kind of accountability he wants to see for people involved in last month’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Biden has avoided weighing in on the impeachment of former President Donald Trump, who has been accused of inciting the attack with a speech he gave in which he urged his supporters to “fight” as Biden’s election victory was being certified. Many of the pro-Trump demonstrators who attended that rally marched straight to the Capitol, where they tore down barricades, stormed into the building and ransacked offices.

In the weeks since the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., and other lawmakers have backed efforts to create a congressional investigation or commission to get detailed information on the attack and law enforcement response.

Joe Biden

President Biden in Washington on Wednesday. (Michael Reynolds/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, when asked during a press briefing if Biden supports the idea of a commission in Congress, White House press secretary Jen Psaki deferred to lawmakers.

“We certainly leave the determination about whether there’s a congressional investigation up to members of Congress,” Psaki said.

The violence at the Capitol was linked to the deaths of five people, including U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who attempted to keep the crowds back. Aspects of the Capitol Police’s preparation for planned protests on that day and their response to the attacks have been called into question by Bowman and others.

The Capitol Police chief resigned after the attack, two officers have been suspended and at least 10 others are being investigated for behavior during the attack including an incident in which one took a selfie with rioters. Despite this, the Capitol Police have not held a briefing to address reporters or the public since the attack.

Psaki declined to say whether Biden believes the Capitol Police should publicly address the attack. Instead, she pointed to the FBI investigation into the violence.

“We, of course, here in the federal government, there’s an ongoing investigation, as you know, out of the Department of Justice,” she said, “and I’d defer to them for any reports or updates from their end.”

The White House briefing came minutes before Biden’s announcement on the Myanmar coup. Secretary of State Antony Blinken previously acknowledged that America’s ability to advocate for democracy abroad “took a hit” with the Jan. 6 attack.

Trump supporters clash with police

Trump supporters clashing with police and security forces at the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

Psaki stressed that Biden has denounced what happened at the Capitol last month as “horrific” and “an attack on our democracy.”

“He made those statements because that’s how he felt, and also it’s important to make that clear to the public and to the world,” she said. “But in terms of what steps will be taken from here, we leave that to the Senate.”

Many observers have said the Capitol attack was tantamount to a coup since it was an effort to overturn Biden’s election. Bowman’s proposal to investigate the attack was even named the COUP Act. While Psaki used the term “coup” to describe the situation in Myanmar, she hesitated to say whether she believes it should be applied to the Capitol attack.

“I’m not going to give any new definitions,” she said, adding, “I appreciate your creativity, though.”


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