The Pentagon signaled on Saturday it would continue limiting lawmakers' access to details unearthed during the military's investigation of the shooting at Fort Hood.
Even after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) threatened to subpoena the Pentagon on Friday in an attempt to obtain that information, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the secrecy is necessary to allow the military's inquiry to continue uninhibited.
However, Gates' latest retort has hardly satisfied Lieberman, who initially gave the White House until Monday to release most of its information about suspect Maj. Nidal Hissan.
In a statement first published in Saturday's Wall Street Journal, Lieberman described the White House's approach as "baseless." He later noted the details that he and his Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee have sought for more than five months "clearly has no bearing on the prosecution."
Consequently, the standoff between the White House and Lieberman's committee over the Fort Hood attack seems poised to become President Barack Obama's first legal battle with Congress.
According to Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-Maine), who lambasted the Pentagon on Friday, the Obama administration has praised lawmakers for investigating the shooting deaths of 13 soldiers, while denying her committee unfettered access to the military's information. That prompted the threat of subpoena, she told reporters.
“I regret to say our efforts to obtain this information necessary to conduct a thorough investigation of this homeland terrorist act have been met with much foot-dragging, very limited assistance and changing reasons,” Lieberman added on Friday. “In short, the response of the executive branch to this thoroughly legitimate congressional request for information has been inadequate and unreasonable.
However, the Pentagon has long been adamant about the importance of secrecy in its ongoing investigation. For one thing, military leaders wish to keep much of Hasan's suspected e-mail conversations with Anwar al-Awlaki, a cleric in Yemen, out of the public eye.
“We certainly recognize Congress’s important responsibility with respect to oversight and their interest in this tragic event,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told The Hill this week. “But it is also important as we work with the Congress, and we will continue to work with the Congress, to ensure that we maintain the integrity of our internal reviews, as well as the criminal investigation and the prosecution of Hasan.”