Lessons the Jan. 6 committee could glean from the bipartisan 9/11 Commission

The House select committee's investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection is one of the highest-profile investigations of its kind since the commission on the 9/11 attacks nearly 20 years ago. That bipartisan group worked for almost two years, holding public hearings before releasing its findings. It was chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, who joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The House select committee's investigation into the January 6 insurrection, which includes public hearings taking place this week and next, is one of the highest-profile investing nations of its kind since the commission on the 9/11 attacks nearly 20 years ago.

    That bipartisan group worked for almost two years, holding public hearings and eventually releasing its findings. It was chaired by former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, a Republican.

    And he joins me now.

    Governor Kean, thank you so much for being with us again at the "NewsHour."

    Let me just first ask you your reaction to the public hearing so far that the select committee has held and how the committee has gone about its work?

    Thomas Kean, Former Co-Chairman, 9/11 Commission: Well, we're finding out some information we need to know. And that's good.

    And it seems to me that their mandate isn't an awful lot different than us. I mean, you have got to tell the American people the facts and try and make them clear, undisputable facts.

    And then I'd like to know, what do we do as a country to make sure this never, ever happens again? And that was the second part of our mandate in the 9/11 Commission. And I think this committee should have that as one of the mandates as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we know that your commission was bipartisan, as we said, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.

    This committee is seven Democrats, two Republicans. We know the history of that, the agreement — there just could not be an agreement reached on the Republicans on the committee.

    How much do you think that undermines the credibility of its work, or does it?

  • Thomas Kean:

    Yes, it hurts. It hurts badly, because that means 40 percent of the country at least is going to have some doubts about what they have to say, because they don't consider it — they don't consider it a bipartisan commission.

    It's very — we worked very, very hard on the 9/11 Commission to make sure that Republicans and Democrats had equal say, that our report was going to be accepted by the Congress and both parties, and that the American people would broadly accept what we had to say.

    But it was all based on the bipartisanship. So, if it's not bipartisan, it's going to be attacked. And when it's attacked, a good portion of the country is not going to find it credible. And that's a — that's a great shame.

    And what I worry about, does that mean that, in time of crisis, the Congress is now incapable of forming a bipartisan commission that's fair to both parties? Because, if that's true, we have lost a lot in this country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, of course, it does have two Republicans in Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. But it does not have the approval of the House Republican leadership.

    Is there anything that committee can do, do you think, to come across in its work as fair and as producing a work product that the public should be able to respect?

  • Thomas Kean:

    Look, the committee's all we have got right now. I wish it was bipartisan, but they're going to tell us the facts. And we have got to judge for ourselves.

    We didn't have any blame attached in the 9/11 report, if you read that. We simply gave all the facts, and we felt the American people were intelligent enough to come up with the conclusions and blame who they wanted to blame.

    This seems to be a bit on the blame side. And I think that's a mistake, because what we really need is all the facts, and the American people are smart. They can make their own conclusions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think that Speaker Pelosi was wrong to deny two of Leader McCarthy, Kevin McCarthy's choices out of the five people he recommended for the committee? Was that a mistake, do you think?

  • Thomas Kean:

    Well, I think she made a choice. I mean, you — she made a choice for unity, as opposed to bipartisanship.

    And that's a — I think it was the wrong choice, because I think — I talked to — I have great respect for the speaker. And I have talked to her about this. And I think it was very important to have a bipartisan commission. It's not bipartisan. And I think we will suffer for it. We will suffer for it in the report. We will suffer for it and it won't unify the American people the way it should.

    We have got to have a good report on this, first time the Capitol has been breached since 1811. And that was the British. I mean, we have got to find out exactly what happened, have confidence in those facts, and then, hopefully, decide how we make sure it never happens again.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, the committee says that it is going about finding the facts. It has been — as you know, the witnesses so far have been mainly Republicans. They have been people who served in the Trump White House, the Trump administration or the Trump campaign.

    Are you saying the committee's work is fatally flawed because of the makeup of the committee, or is there something they can do to make their work credible?

  • Thomas Kean:

    Look, I think that this committee is very important. They have got to give us the facts and we have got to judge those facts.

    I'm saying that they're under a great handicap because the way the committee is now constituted, it's a constituted to bring blame, and only one party really in charge. And so it's very, very hard to get the kind of credibility that will unite the American people.

    And at this time, more than any other time in our history that I remember, we need unity. We need to bring people together. We need the Republicans and Democrats talking to each other about these important problems.

    And so I think the — I wish the committee wasn't flawed in this way, because they're all we have. There's nobody else — nobody else doing the work.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think it's possible that it will — that it could end up with a result that is credible, that it could be seen as having done the job that it was supposed to do?

  • Thomas Kean:

    Yes, I think it's going to be — look, I think whatever they do is going to be positive, because we're going to find things out we didn't know otherwise. And that's going to be very important.

    So, I think, depending on how the report comes out, yes, they can make a tremendous contribution. I'm just saying it's much more difficult now. If it was bipartisan, it would be much easier.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And final question.

    Do you think the Justice Department should pursue any facts that emerge from this committee's report?

  • Thomas Kean:

    Yes, if they're criminal in nature, yes, absolutely.

    But, I mean, they have got to — the fact that the president was detached is alarming. I mean, that's — to have a president that's detached from reality, that's an alarming fact. But it isn't — it isn't something that's indictable. So, I think they got to have a little more than they have come out with so far.

    But, yes, if it's criminal, it should — of course, it should be reported to the Justice Department.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're referencing a comment from the former Attorney General Bill Barr, who at one point said he thought the president might be detached from reality.

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

    Thank you so much, Governor Kean.

  • Thomas Kean:

    Thank you very much, Judy.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And a note that the January 6 Committee has postponed tomorrow's hearing. So, the next public hearing will be this Thursday.

    We will have live coverage beginning at 1:00 p.m. Eastern here on PBS. That's on air and online.

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