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9/11 Commission Leader Says Jan. 6 Capitol Riot Panel May Be Too Partisan To Succeed

Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission, testifies in 2011 in Washington, D.C.
Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission, testifies in 2011 in Washington, D.C.

Updated July 27, 2021 at 4:03 PM ET

A partisan Congress will be incapable of completing a successful investigation into the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, says former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission. He tells NPR that such an inquiry, which held its first hearing on Tuesday, should be done by people who are not in politics.

"To do the kind of investigation that is required here and certainly the kind that was required on 9/11, you've got to make it your full-time occupation. You've got to be unworried about anything that's going to get in your way," Kean told NPR's Michel Martin in an interview on All Things Considered. "You can't let politics or anything else stand in the way."

Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming are the only Republicans on the nine-member select House committee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided to reject two of the five Republicans chosen for the panel by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. In response, McCarthy pulled all five of his GOP picks.

Kean, a Republican, says these kinds of political fights are the reason such an investigation should be led by people who no longer hold political office.

While the investigation into the Capitol riot is being compared unfavorably to the 9/11 Commission, the Sept. 11 panel faced similar roadblocks, including resistance to creating the panel altogether and stonewalling on the part of the George W. Bush White House.

Despite those obstacles, the commission completed its investigation, conducting more than 1,200 interviews and reviewing millions of documents the results of which were widely accepted by the American public.

Kean attributes the commission's success to the bipartisan approach he and its Democratic co-chair, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, agreed upon from the start.

"Once the rest of the commission saw that's the way we were going to proceed, and the Democrats got just as much say as the Republicans in deciding the important issues, they backed off and they saw that both Lee and I were going to be nonpartisan and the commission proceeded ahead," Kean said.

He said it may not be worth going through with the hearings into the Jan. 6 riots without the kind of bipartisan participation.

"There is no point in having an investigation if it's not going to be accepted by the people. ... I commend the speaker for trying, but I don't see how it's going to work," he said.

And while he doesn't know if the committee will be successful in its current iteration, Kean says a thorough investigation into the events of Jan. 6 is necessary.

"It's more and more difficult in this atmosphere we're in and so it's got to be done even more carefully, you've got to set up the mechanism right and most of all you've got to appoint the right people," he said.

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