By J. Taylor Rushing - 04/15/10 07:56 PM EDT
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) accused the Obama administration of stalling a congressional investigation into the Fort Hood shootings and threatened to start issuing subpoenas.
vow opens a new rift with the White House for the Independent
Lieberman, as well as the possibility of President Barack Obama’s first
legal showdown with Congress.
Lieberman and ranking Homeland Security
panel member Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said they would issue the
subpoenas to the Defense Department and Justice Department under their
own authority and would seek full committee approval to take the
administration to court if the information isn’t released.
stern Lieberman said he and Collins have been stalled for five months
in their attempts to seek answers in the Nov. 5, 2009, tragedy at the
Texas military base, in which 13 people were shot dead. An Army
psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Hasan, is accused of the murders, which
Lieberman and others have described as an act of terrorism because
Hasan had been in contact with Islamic clerics and may have acted out
of opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The White House on Thursday referred requests for comment to the Defense Department.
For now, it is unclear how the administration plans to react to Lieberman’s subpoena threat.
certainly recognize Congress’s important responsibility with respect to
oversight and their interest in this tragic event,” said Pentagon
spokesman Bryan Whitman. “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.”
said he has had countless conversations with administration officials
to seek access to information and witnesses, in order to scrutinize
whether the shootings could have been prevented and how Hasan should be
tried. He said he has been repeatedly “frustrated” in that effort, and
feels obligated to “fulfill my responsibility” as the committee’s
“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 said. “In short,
the response of the executive branch to this thoroughly legitimate
congressional request for information has been inadequate and
Collins was just as stern, noting that Obama
initially said he welcomed a congressional investigation into the
shootings, and saying the committee “has taken step after step, made
offer after offer and bent over backwards” to accommodate the
The administration has maintained
that a congressional inquiry into the shootings would jeopardize the
criminal case against Hasan, and has launched its own review of the
incident. But Lieberman and Collins ridiculed that assertion on
Thursday, saying their committee has previously held hearings that did
not interfere with prosecutions and that they had pledged to work with
the administration to keep certain materials classified.
endorsed and vigorously campaigned for Republican Sen. John McCain
(Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential campaign, and many Democrats fumed
over his criticism of Obama.
Liberal Democrats were upset
further with Lieberman after he fought against the public health
insurance option during the healthcare debate.
Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was under pressure in January 2009 to yank
Lieberman’s chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee, but
decided against it — after Obama intervened and suggested he should
Asked if his subpoena threat exemplifies a further rift
with Democrats, or if his chairmanship could be jeopardized anew,
Lieberman said he simply felt responsible to push the administration
into compliance with his committee.
“This is so different in
the sense that this is really about carrying out what I see as my
responsibility as a committee chair to obtain information to complete
an investigation,” he said. “To me, that’s different from taking a
position on an issue on which I may disagree with the Democratic Party.
And we really tried every which way to work this out, but they’ve just
been stonewalling us.
Democrats showed no immediate
enthusiasm for punishing Lieberman over the subpoena threat. Majority
Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), for one, gave an emphatic no when asked if
the caucus regretted leaving Lieberman as a chairman with subpoena
“Every chairman has that power, and hopefully they can still work it out,” Durbin said of Lieberman and the White House.
Tom Carper (D-Del.) went even further in defending Lieberman, noting
that the senator is usually a reliable vote for the Democratic agenda.
of all the issues where his vote was critical, even to take up
legislation and reach 60 votes. To table votes. To move votes,” Carper
said. “I mean, we would be crazy to try to ostracize him.
Sam Youngman and Roxana Tiron contributed to this story.
An earlier version of this story was posted at 1:26 p.m.