The head of the 9/11 Commission has told the Guardian senators’ failure to launch a similar investigation into the 6 January insurrection at the US Capitol is “democracy’s loss”.
Thomas Kean led a bipartisan team that held public hearings, studied classified intelligence, interviewed two presidents and chased down conspiracy theories in producing a 567-page report on the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
The former Republican governor of New Jersey argued for an equivalent commission to study the Capitol riot but that effort was thwarted on Friday when Senate Republicans used their first legislative filibuster of Joe Biden’s presidency, stopping Democrats obtaining the 60-vote majority needed to set up the panel.
“It saddens me because there was no real public reason for turning it down,” Kean, 86, said by phone from Far Hills, New Jersey. “I guess some people were scared of what they’d find out. That’s not a good reason for turning it down.
“I think if it’s done right, the methodology of the 9/11 Commission works and could have worked to find out all about this particular event. Why these people invaded the Capitol, who they were, who they were allied with. Was it a big conspiracy? Was there any plan to do anything in the future? Why wasn’t the Capitol better defended?”
Kean added: “These are all questions we may never have the answer to. It’s time we found out about it and I’m sorry we’re not going to. It’s a mistake and it’s a country’s loss and a democracy’s loss.”
Kean was appointed chairman of the 9/11 Commission by George W Bush. Most of its recommendations were implemented by Congress, including the need for greater intelligence sharing between agencies, under a single national director.
Kean believes the commission’s work, including cooperation between Democrats and Republicans, offered a valuable blueprint.
“I think when you find something that works,” he said, “it’s not a bad thing to replicate it. There are lots of things that don’t work and haven’t worked – they shouldn’t be replicated – but this is one that did work.
“We told the history of the 9/11 attacks, which is now used as a college textbook, and nobody’s really contradicted any of the major facts in it.
“We made 41 recommendations, most of which were enacted by the Congress. We had the largest reorganisation of government in years and the bottom line is there hasn’t been anything like that attack since. The structure we set up seems to work.”
Kean also supports efforts to create a Covid-19 commission to learn lessons from America’s mishandling of the pandemic. But he suspects it might eventually be done by the private sector rather than government.
Some commentators have described 6 January 2021 as America’s darkest day since 11 September 2001. The nation was stunned when a mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building in an attempt to disrupt the certification of Biden as winner of the presidential election. Five people died.
Democrats pushed for a commission that would scrutinise law enforcement decisions on the day, intelligence and security planning failures and the response of the Pentagon, along with Trump’s role before and during the chaos.
In a speech near the White House on 6 January, Trump told supporters to “fight like hell” in support of his lie that his defeat was the result of electoral fraud. He was impeached on a charge of inciting an insurrection but was acquitted when only seven Republican senators voted for his guilt.
Legislation to create the commission passed the House with 35 Republican supporters but on Friday only six Republican senators voted in favour. Five of the six also voted to convict Trump in his impeachment trial.
The outcome of the attempt to establish the 6 January commission immediately fuelled criticism that the Republican party has put fealty to Trump ahead of healing democracy.