9/11 investigators weigh in on plans for Capitol riot commission

An increasingly partisan dispute is taking shape in Congress over how to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. Former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean and former Congressman Lee Hamilton led the independent 9/11 commission, which lawmakers hope to use as a model, and they joined CBSN to discuss how lawmakers should structure the investigation into the events of January 6.

Video Transcript

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: There's an increasing partisan battle taking shape in Congress over how to establish and execute an independent commission to investigate the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell turned down Speaker Nancy Pelosi's draft proposal, calling it partisan by design. Yesterday she responded saying that she was disappointed in McConnell's remarks and took a jab at Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson who has peddled conspiracy theories in an attempt to downplay the attack.

NANCY PELOSI: It seemed when he spoke that he was taking a page out of the book of Senator Johnson.

Well, it's Don Johnson. Was his first name John?

- Ron.

NANCY PELOSI: What is it Ron?

- Ron.

NANCY PELOSI: Senator. Let me call him-- [LAUGHS].

Ron Johnson seems to be taking the lead on what the scope would be of how we look at protecting our country from domestic terrorism.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: So former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean and former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton led the independent 9/11 commission that lawmakers hope to use as a model to investigate the breach of the US Capitol. Governor Kean was the chair of the 9/11 commission, and Congressman Hamilton was the vice chair. And, gentlemen, we are so glad to have you joining us today.

You know, we heard the speaker, and part of the issue with the House speaker's initial recommendations for the panel was that she recommended seven Democratic-appointed members and four Republican-appointed members. Now, as you heard, she said, listen, this was just for a draft discussion. But Governor Kean, what are your thoughts on this? What is the risk of building a panel that is not a 50-50 bipartisan split?

TOM KEAN: Well, we have to have bipartisanship, and we have to have something the American people can accept. In an era-- this time of ours when Republicans and Democrats don't seem to speak to each other and all sorts of national divisions, we need a commission that can bring us together and really look at the problems that occurred and why this thing happened, how it happened, and to make recommendations so it never, ever happens again. So bipartisanship I think is necessary.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: Congressman Hamilton, beyond just an even number of Democrats and Republicans appointed to the commission, how significant is it who exactly sits on that panel?

LEE HAMILTON: Well, it makes all the difference in the world. The quality of the people makes the difference, as in almost any human endeavor. We want on this panel the people who are serious, who put aside their partisan biases, whatever they may be, to the largest-possible extent. We want the commission to be well-- the investigation to be well resourced so that they can go where the facts lead them. And you want most of all a commitment to protect the country and to put aside these secondary considerations so that that can be done. So the quality of the people makes all the difference.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Governor Kean, I've heard you say that a commission of this type needs to be well funded, and it needs to be staffed with people who are not ambitious. I heard you joke that you guys used to call yourselves a bunch of has-beens.

But we're living in such different times right now. A, we're talking about sort of finding the enemy essentially within versus an external enemy. But also it seems even, you know, quote, unquote, has-beens, even Congress-- even lawmakers who are sort of retired or on their way out still seem to hold-- to cling very passionately to some partisan beliefs. And in the case of the attack on the Capitol, in some cases we're talking about people that are espousing things that are just not factual, that are fantasies, that have been disproven over and over again. I just wonder if creating a bipartisan panel is doable in this environment versus the environment that you guys were working under.

TOM KEAN: Well, first of all, our environment was pretty partisan too. George Bush was running for reelection. That was a pretty tough year for bipartisanship.

But most importantly, there are still a lot of people out there who are willing to put country ahead of party and not necessarily all in Washington. I mean, we concentrate on Washington, but look, there are good governors out there. We had two governors on the panel. There are former retired members of the judiciary, good judges. There are attorney generals. There are people who served in the Bush administration or the Obama administration who may want to do some more government service. There are a lot of good Americans out there I think who would like to get to the bottom of this, who are willing to do one more job for their country, and have a record-- have a record in their whole history of reaching across the aisle and again putting country ahead of party.

And if we don't do that, don't form the commission. You've got to have people of that mindset.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: That's an important point, Governor. Let me ask you this. On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said any commission looking into the increase in political extremism in the US should also do a broader analysis of political violence, an apparent reference to racial-justice protests that took place over the summer. Congressman Hamilton, is that something the commission should be looking into with regards to what happened, the insurrection on the 6th?

LEE HAMILTON: Well, the commission has to make that decision itself. I'm not sure what all the considerations are. But obviously you don't want to mandate so broad that you can't get a focus.

We're looking at the events that really would seek to destroy the democratic system in this country. That's a very, very serious matter. You don't want to hamstring the commission. On the other hand, you don't want the commission just to run loose and investigate anything one or two members think needs to be investigated.

So you have to keep your focus. The focus area obviously is quite broad, but it demands a closely drawn mandate and then continued referral back to that mandate to make sure you're focused in on the target in your investigation and that the resources available in the commission flow to support the primary function, the primary mandate.

It's a delicate matter. But look, as Tom said, there are all kinds of wonderful people in this country who are not going to be overly partisan, who are serious about getting the facts. Tom and I in our investigations of various kinds repeated over and over again to the staff, what are the facts? We did it so often it became the point of some amusement, but it is absolutely critical.

Keep your focus on what are the facts that you're looking for and that respond to the mandate of the commission, and don't get off track. Keep it on target.

ANNE-MARIE GREEN: Governor Kean, for a commission like this to be successful, should it have subpoena power? Should it be able to subpoena lawmakers, members of Congress, and the former president, President Trump, and force them to testify under oath?

TOM KEAN: Well, subpoena power is very necessary. Look, Lee and I didn't use the subpoena power but once I think is the time we used it. But the fact that we had it meant a lot of people who would just as soon not have talked to us were willing to come forward and share information with us. So a subpoena power is absolutely necessary.

And having said that, you go wherever the investigation leads us. Lee Hamilton's absolutely right on that. And of course you've got to talk to the former president. We talked to the sitting president. We talked to the sitting vice president. We talked to the sitting secretary of state. We talked to the former president, President Clinton. Wherever the questions were, we had people who had the answers to those questions, and this commission, if it's formed, is going to do exactly the same thing. Lee is right. You've got to go until you make a report that gives the American people the information they've got to have so this never happens again.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: Yeah, I mean, you both wrote a letter to President Biden and congressional leaders earlier this month, and you urged them to consider the idea of this commission. However, the letter did not name former President Trump or note that it was his supporters who breached the Capitol on January 6. The focus was mostly on the security of Congress and its capacity to do its job.

Governor Kean, given that, for example, just this past week we heard a sitting member of the United States Senate, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, spout false conspiracy theories on the floor in the Senate chambers, how important is it to focus in on the former president's role and that of his supporters in the insurrection?

TOM KEAN: That's very definitely part of the investigation, has to be part of the investigation. It's only one part. Bottom line is, how did this happen? Why did it happen? Was it organized way ahead of time? Did people intend to invade the Capitol and go in there and take possession of it? Did they intent to kidnap legislators? What was the-- what was the intent?

And secondly, why was the Capitol so badly defended? I mean, there were less people to defend the Capitol than there are at a Super Bowl or an athletic event. I mean, it was-- the whole thing was crazy, and it was wrong. And look, we haven't had an invasion of the Capitol like that since the War of 1812, so it's important that we look at it and make sure it never happens in this democracy again.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: Indeed. Governor Kean, before we let you go, we've been talking about a very weighty subject matter with you and Congressman Hamilton, but let me just say that it's really good to see you again. I recall as a young man living just across the border of Bergen County in Rockland County, New York, your commercials from the 1980s. New Jersey and you, perfect together. And it had, you know, pictures of you in Cape May, and then at one point I think you were in Jersey City or Hoboken with the Statue of Liberty behind you. Those were the days when states had actual commercials for tourism. New York had I Love New York. And I just remember you specifically, you know, bouncing from iconic location in New Jersey to iconic location and at the end saying "New Jersey and you, perfect together."

Now it's called-- the slogan is Garden State, which doesn't strike me as as much fun as perfect together.

[LAUGHTER]

TOM KEAN: "New Jersey and you, perfect together" worked. It really did.

VLADIMIR DUTHIERS: Governor Tom Kean, Congressman Lee Hamilton, thank you both very much. We really appreciate it.

TOM KEAN: Thank you.