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Former 9/11 investigator joins bipartisan calls for new commission to probe Capitol attack

Former President Trump's second impeachment trial has concluded, but questions still remain over the Jan. 6 insurrection. Now, former 9/11 Commission co-chairs Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton are calling on President Biden to create an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the assault at the U.S. Capitol. Kean, who is also the former New Jersey governor, joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Although former President Trump's second impeachment trial concluded over the weekend, many questions remain surrounding the events during and leading up to the deadly January 6 insurrection.

    And, as we reported earlier, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her plans today to form an outside, independent 9/11-style commission to, as she says, get to the bottom of how this happened.

    Former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean chaired the 9/11 Commission, and he joins us now.

    Governor Thomas Kean, welcome to the "NewsHour." Very good to see you.

    We know that you and your vice chair, former Congressman Lee Hamilton sent a letter to President Biden, to congressional leaders on Friday, urging them to consider the idea of a commission. Some people are going to look at this and say, great idea. Other people are going to say, oh, no, another commission.

    Why is it a good idea?

  • Thomas Kean:

    Well, look, this is the first time anything like this has happened to our government, I suppose, since the British invaded the Capitol in 1812.

    The idea of a mob invading the U.S. Capitol, which is the center of democracy, not only for us, but for the world, and doing it so publicly, is — I was brought up to venerate the place.

    My father was elected to Congress when I was 3 years old. And in those days, the family moved down. So, I was taken down to the Capitol with my father, and so where Webster was, and where Clay sat, and where John Quincy Adams gave his favorite speech against slavery and then died minutes later, and so on.

    I knew Andrew Jackson, and I knew Sam Rayburn. I mean, people — buildings were named after them. So, the idea that a mob could invade the center of democracy while the legislators were doing their job is so terrible, that I think, now it's behind us, we better find out why it happened, how it happened, how security was breached, so we can make recommendations to make sure it never, ever happens again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    How do you assure the American people that a commission can get to the bottom of this, that a commission can come through with an accurate, truthful accounting of what happened?

  • Thomas Kean:

    Well, I think we can do it because it has been done. The 9/11 Commission, our report has not yet been questioned, as far as to its accuracy goes, as far as its impartiality, as far as its bipartisanship.

    And if we have done it once, we can do it again. But it does depend — it depends on the appointments. The people who are appointing, the people in the Congress have got to make sure this is people who have no ambitions, who are not overly partisan, who can reach across the aisle, who can work with each other, and who have the confidence, based on their own records, of the American people to come out with something that is useful, proper, and will prevent it ever happening again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that's a question I have, Governor Kean, because we're in a much more politically polarized time, as you know, than it was even in 2000, after 2001 — or 2002, when your commission got to work.

    How can — how do we know that each side isn't going to be appointing or one side or the other people who are so set in their views that you can't come up with a unanimous view of what happened or reporting of what happened?

  • Thomas Kean:

    I think it is — again, we're going to be dependent on our elected officials. That's who we are in this democracy.

    And I think the idea of — I have great confidence that Nancy Pelosi, Congressman McCarthy, that the leaders of the Senate know who these people are, because a lot of them have served within the Congress.

    When Lee Hamilton was appointed as my vice chair, nobody objected, because Lee Hamilton had a record of integrity and bipartisanship, and doing what was best for the country, rather than anything else, all his political life.

    That hasn't ended. There are people I know and people you know of right now, some of them serving in the Congress now, some of them retired from public service, some of whom have been governors. There are a number of these people whose only bottom line is service to the United States of America, country first, patriots. And those are the people who have got to be appointed.

    And I think we have got to call as hard as we can on the leaders of Congress to make sure those are the people who get on the commission.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Does getting to the bottom of former President Trump's involvement in this, role in this, is that essential to the work of a commission?

  • Thomas Kean:

    It's part of it, but it's not — to me, it's not the bottom line.

    You serve — do a commission to find out the facts of how something happened. How did this mob get created? How was it — I mean, we don't know still whether they planned it all ahead of time or whether some were incited on the spot. We don't know that yet.

    Find out how it happened, and find out the facts that everybody agrees on. Once you find out the facts, you can make the recommendations to ensure it never, ever, ever can happen again. But you have to have the facts first in order to make those kind of recommendations.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We went back and looked at some of the reporting at the time your — the 9/11 Commission issued its report in 2004.

    And you are right. The vast majority of reaction was very positive, praised the work that you did. There were some who said the fact that you were trying to reach a unanimous view meant that you, in the end, had to soften the edges, in so many words.

    How do you see that?

  • Thomas Kean:

    Well, we didn't. I don't think we softened it at all. We had a lot of debates. We met hours and hours and hours and hours.

    We got to know each other first, so Republicans and Democrats came to trust each other, had private dinners together, in some cases, met each other's families. And then, once we had agreed to trust each other and done the public hearings and all of that, the report came quite naturally after that.

    And we didn't — honestly, we did not soften the edges. I mean, we said what we thought we had to say. And I was — I didn't know until two days before we issued the report whether we had it unanimous or not.

    And one thing we found out, by the way, we took out of the adjectives. We found out that people were arguing not about the facts, but the adjectives. Once we removed the adjectives in the report, then a lot of people who had questions signed on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in the end, Governor Kean, how much does a thorough report like this matter? How much difference does it make for our country, for our people, for our system of government?

  • Thomas Kean:

    Look, the 41 recommendations we made in the 9/11 Commission were the basis for a whole redrafting of national security in this country.

    And we still have not had another attack comparable to 9/11. That has kept the people safer. If these commissions are done right, they can work. They can work for the people. And so my sense is, if we do this right, we can make the Congress stronger, we can make national security stronger, and we can make sure, as I say, that nobody in 10 or 20 years is saying, how did this happen again?

    It shouldn't happen. There shouldn't be a mob from the left or the right or anybody else to disrupt the best of this democracy, which is — which should be occurring in the United States Congress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Former Governor Thomas Kean of New Jersey, who I gather Speaker Nancy Pelosi called you after she received that letter on Friday.

    So, it looks as if it certainly did play into the thinking here.

  • Thomas Kean:

    We had a very nice call.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We so appreciate your joining us. Thank you very much.

  • Thomas Kean:

    Thank you for having me.

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