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Ex-GOP Gov. and 9/11 commission chair on why Congress needs to establish Jan. 6 commission

Former Republican New Jersey Governor Tom Kean was the chairman of the independent, bipartisan 9/11 commission - the congressionally-approved panel which served as the model for the January 6 commission. Kean joins Judy Woodruff to discuss why the commission was blocked, and what Republicans in power ought to know about independent commissions.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return now to our lead story, today's move by the GOP to block an investigation into the Capitol insurrection.

    Former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, a Republican himself, was chairman of the independent bipartisan 9/11 Commission. That was a congressionally approved panel, which served as a model for the proposed January 6 commission.

    And Governor Kean joins me now.

    Governor Kean, so good to see you. And thank you for joining us.

    What is your reaction to this vote today, where they — the proposal to create a commission fell short by a number of votes?

  • Governor Thomas Kean, NJ:

    I'm sad.

    It looks to me right now like the American people might never find out the truth. And we need to know the truth. We have got to find out why this happened, how it happened, why the Capitol wasn't defended the way it was, who was involved in the conspiracies. And we need to do that to prevent it ever happening again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor Kean, what about the argument made by a number of Republican senators who — six of them voted for, but the vast majority voted against.

    But the vast majority voted against. But a number of them said, well, there are already investigations under way, Congress has various committees looking into this, that a commission, an independent commission wasn't needed.

  • Gov. Thomas Kean:

    Well, it's the same thing they said when they tried to prevent the 9/11 Commission from being created.

    The truth is, Congress cannot properly investigate this kind of a thing, unless you have a structure, a bipartisan structure, and one that enables you have a staff to find out the truth. Congress is very busy doing a whole bunch of things. They are extraordinarily partisan.

    And something — this is too important to the American — for America's history. We have got to get this right. And I'm afraid now, unless they change their minds, they're not going to get it right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I was also reading a comment from Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee. He predicted — he said that this, if it had been created, would have been what he called a kangaroo commission. It would have been looking at areas outside January the 6th, that — and it constituted a recipe for a witch-hunt.

    Did you see any potential for that in what was being suggested?

  • Gov. Thomas Kean:

    None that I saw. And that's — Congress should have a clear description of what this commission should do. And I think it did in the legislation.

    And so, no, I didn't see any chance of a witch-hunt at all. I think they would have done a good job. There are good men and women in both bodies who are willing to give government service and would have done it to find the truth this time. So — and the truth is what we really need in a democracy so we can proceed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Governor, this is what you're referring to, I know, in the comments you're making.

    But help our audience understand what's lost by not having an outside, independent, bipartisan body to look into the events of the attack on the Capitol.

  • Gov. Thomas Kean:

    Credibility is what's lost, because, right now, if you have an congressional investigation now — and we have seen a lot of them now — you get Republicans yelling at Democrats, Democrats yelling at Republican, and the truth gets lost.

    What we're asking for in this was a bipartisan investigation, with good people who are retired from the Congress probably, or retired from public service, who could look at it impartially, openly, and make a report for the American people that would have been accepted as truth.

    That's a model of the 9/11 Commission. The 9/11 Commission worked. We found out the truth, and we acted on the truth. We make recommendations. And due to those recommendations, this country has never been attacked again in the same way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Governor Kean, I mentioned, of course, you are a Republican. You served two terms as governor of the state of New Jersey.

    How do you explain the fact that so many members of your party are opposed to the idea of investigating what happened?

  • Gov. Thomas Kean:

    Well, I think they're worried. They're probably worried about what would come out.

    But the truth never hurts you in the end. The truth is what you need in a democracy. And so I think they're making a mistake. And they did the same thing about the 9/11 Commission. They opposed it for the same reasons. And it got through because the families of 9/11 pushed it through the Congress.

    We need that kind of a push now, because we have got to find out what happened, so we can proceed and go ahead.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we know it was not just former President Trump who made it very clear he opposed the idea of this commission, but the Senate Republican leader, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, worked very hard to persuade other Republican senators to vote against this.

    What is your message to him?

  • Gov. Thomas Kean:

    Well, what we learned in the 9/11 Commission was, Republicans were very worried, as were Democrats, we would find out things about then President Bush, and it would hurt him for reelection.

    In fact, we found out the former president was telling the truth. It probably helped him in his reelection. You don't suffer if you find out the truth. And the only way, unfortunately, in this very divided country of ours, this very divided Congress right now, to find out the truth is to do it in this manner, do it in a bipartisan manner, and one that everybody accepts.

    Unfortunately, that looks like it's not going to happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And speaking of that, I mean, now that we have had this vote, is there a way that you know of where there could be some kind of independent investigation, short of what Congress was trying to create?

  • Gov. Thomas Kean:

    Well, you can do it outside of Congress, but then you don't have subpoena power. You don't have the tools you need in order to do a proper investigation.

    So, this is the right way to do it. And my hope is that the public and other people will call on people in both parties to say, look, let's do it, let's do it right, and tell the American people what they have to know to go forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor, have you been in contact with members of Congress, with members of the Senate on this to make the kinds of arguments you're sharing with us?

  • Gov. Thomas Kean:

    I have not. I probably should have.

    I have said a number of things publicly. And I have talked to a few congressmen, but I have not talked to — I have not talked to members of the Senate.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And based on what you're seeing right now, do you see hope? I know you talk to people in public life all the time. Do you see prospects for creating something that could in some way get to the bottom of what happened on January 6?

  • Gov. Thomas Kean:

    It looks very discouraging at the time we're talking.

    And it's not only discouraging for this. If Congress has now decided that they have an inability to appoint an independent commission to look at one of the country's most serious problems, that's a very bad sign for the future, because, if they can't do this properly, they're not going to be able to do the next one properly either.

    This sets a precedent, and it's the wrong precedent. It's that Congress is incapable of telling the American people the truth about something very important that happened. And that's wrong.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The former governor of the state of New Jersey and the former chair of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean.

    Thank you very much, Governor Kean. We appreciate it.

  • Gov. Thomas Kean:

    Thank you very much.

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