Senate slower than House to hold hearings on Boston terrorist attack

The House and Senate have taken different approaches to hearings probing how federal authorities handled the Boston bombing suspects before the terrorist attack on that city’s marathon last week.

In the GOP-held House, hearings have already been scheduled and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has promised an exhaustive investigation.

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In the Senate, where Democrats hold the majority, some argue hearings should wait for authorities to finish their investigation.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said it’s too soon to have hearings.

“No, not at this time, I don’t think it would be helpful,” Feinstein told The Hill on Wednesday.

“This is a criminal investigation going on ... things they thought were true one day they find out have changed the next day in certain ways,” she said. “The FBI and everyone working on this has to have an opportunity to build the case. And there’d be no value in having a public hearing [in the Intelligence Committee yet].”


While Senate Democrats are hesitating to call for quick hearings, some Republicans are beginning to press for them.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has asked Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) to hold a hearing into why a spelling error in travel documents for bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev prevented federal authorities from learning he returned to the United States in 2012 after spending six months in Russia.

“I think we need to have a hearing in the Homeland Security Committee,” McCain told reporters on Wednesday. “Why is it they knew when he left but they didn’t know when he came back?”

McCain has also voiced concern about a lack of coordination among law enforcement agencies, a problem that plagued authorities before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“Where was the coordination with the FBI? Obviously this young man also made his feeling very clear about radical Islam on the Internet. There’s all kinds of questions that need to be asked,” McCain said.

In a further development on Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that Tsarnaev was placed on a counterterrorism watch list by the CIA after Russian authorities raised alarms about him.

Carper said he is interested in having a joint committee hearing that would allow several panels with different jurisdictions to weigh in.

Carper expects Thursday’s Senate briefing by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to focus on how much communication there was between agencies about Tsarnaev’s trip to Russia.

Lawmakers in both chambers have begun pointing fingers at the FBI, which interviewed Tsarnaev in 2011 in response to Russian concerns that the ethnic Chechen might be a threat.

Tsarnaev was killed after a firefight with police four days after the bombing. His brother Dzhokhar, also a suspect in the bombing, is being held in custody.

“Two questions we're going to want to answer: One, what did we do wrong? And two, what can we do better and what are the lessons learned in that regard,” said Carper.


Two panels in the GOP-led House have already announced plans, and Boehner on Wednesday said hearings would help answer questions about whether federal, state and local agencies are sharing information.

“I have concerns about what agencies knew what and the fact that it wasn’t shared,” Boehner told reporters, “but I think our committees in the coming days and weeks are going to get to the bottom of this, so we’ll have real facts at our disposal to determine whether in fact it is true, and if it was true, why the information wasn’t shared.”

Already, the House Homeland Security Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee have announced plans to hold a hearing.

The Foreign Affairs subpanels on Europe and Terrorism are slated to hold a joint hearing on Friday with academics testifying about the nature of Islamic extremism in Chechnya, The Hill learned on Wednesday.

And earlier this week the Homeland Security panel said it was planning to hold hearings to examine how the attack occurred, its implication for the nation’s security and how law enforcement and lawmakers can prevent future attack.

Jennifer Martinez contributed to this story.