By J. Taylor Rushing - 11/18/09 06:54 PM EST
Sen. Joe Lieberman said Wednesday he would hold a hearing on the Fort Hood shootings and may use his subpoena power to force government officials to testify, setting up a potential conflict with the Obama administration.
chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Committee is moving ahead with a public hearing on Thursday despite
pressure from the White House to delay congressional inquiries.
An Army major, Nidal Malik Hasan, has been
charged with 13 counts of murder in the Nov. 5 incident. President
Barack Obama has asked for a report by Nov. 30 after it was revealed
that a federal joint task force had scrutinized Hasan in December 2008.
has called the shootings “a terrorist attack” — a statement he repeated
Wednesday — and left no doubt he intended to use the hearings to focus
on a perceived increase in Islamic extremism.
conduct this investigation to determine what we can do to better
protect our military service personnel and all of our citizens,”
Lieberman said. “We will focus on what the federal government knew and
what it did concerning Maj. Hasan and whether action should have been
taken to prevent him from carrying out his attack, as well as how the
attack affects our understanding of and defenses against the threat
posed by violent Islamist extremism and homegrown terrorism in this
country, on military bases and beyond.”
Lieberman did not mention issuing subpoenas to compel government witnesses, but told The Hill that he won’t rule it out.
hope we don’t get to that,” he said. “It’s a power that it’s important
that we have, but you never want to have to use it. I’m just assuming
we’re going to work out a cooperative understanding with the
“Basically what we’re looking for is access
to people involved in this, to interview them as part of our need to
understand what happened. … This is a classic legislative-executive
moment, and that’s why we’ve got to be very persistent here. And we
Lieberman’s disagreement with the Obama
administration creates an awkward situation for Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who allowed Lieberman to keep his chairmanship
earlier this year. Democrats had been angry with Lieberman for bucking
the party and supporting Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president last
year. This month the Connecticut Independent rankled many members of
his former party when he announced he would not support ending debate
on the Democratic healthcare bill if it included a public insurance
option, which it does.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley on Wednesday said Reid had no regrets about letting Lieberman keep his gavel.
Collins said she wanted the hearing to “connect the dots.”
there inexcusable gaps and communications failures and failures to act
on compelling evidence that might have allowed us to prevent the attack
at Fort Hood?” she said. “The shootings at Fort Hood appear to
demonstrate that communication failures and poor judgment calls can
defeat systems intended to ensure that vital information is shared to
protect our country and our citizens.”
witnesses do not include any federal government employees, although
Lieberman described them as “experts.” They are: Gen. John M. Keane,
retired former Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army; Frances Fragos
Townsend, former White House homeland security adviser and now a
partner at Baker Botts; Mitchell D. Silber, director of analysis at the
Intelligence Division of the New York City Police Department; Juan C.
Zarate, senior adviser at the Transnational Threats Project at the
Center for Strategic and International Studies; and Brian M. Jenkins,
senior adviser at the RAND Corp.
Army and FBI officials
briefed lawmakers on Tuesday on the shootings, hoping to avoid a
widening gap between Congress and the White House.
warned Congress on Saturday not to turn the shooting into “political
theater.” The Senate Armed Services Committee subsequently postponed a
scheduled closed-door briefing on Monday with Secretary of the Army
John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff George Casey. But Lieberman and
Collins issued a rare Saturday release after Obama remarks, vowing that
its investigation would not become “political theater.”
Lieberman said he is in ongoing talks with administration officials over a path forward, and insisted several times Wednesday that his committee’s inquiry would look at the system that allowed the crime to occur, and not the actual crime. The senator said he did not see a need to interview witnesses of the shootings, for example.
Also Wednesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) sent a letter to the White House to ask that his committee receive a copy of the federal report once it is submitted to Obama on Nov. 30. Leahy’s committee oversees the FBI, which is assisting the Army in the inquiry.
“Consistent with my responsibilities as the chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, and my constitutional obligation to conduct rigorous congressional oversight, I request that the results of the internal investigations by the FBI and the Army be transmitted to the Committee on the Judiciary,” Leahy wrote. “I appreciate that the Department of the Army and the FBI are engaged in an ongoing investigation of this case, and I do not wish to interfere with that process.”
This story was updated at 9 p.m.