Lieberman, Collins leaning toward taking administration to court over Fort Hood

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking Republican Susan Collins (Maine) on Thursday said they are poised to press their subpoena fight with the Obama administration into court.

Lieberman and Collins, speaking separately, both said the Justice and Defense departments have been uncooperative with their efforts to obtain more information about the November 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, that killed 13 people.

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Both senators stopped short of saying they’ve made a final decision, but made it clear they are probably headed toward a court confrontation with administration lawyers based on doubt that the final round of negotiations would bring success.

“If they won’t respond, I think we have an obligation. It’s not easy to enforce a subpoena against the executive branch, but I’m going to make the fight,” Lieberman said.

“If we yield to the executive branch’s argument that they can’t provide us these witnesses because there’s a criminal proceeding, we’re going to create a terrible precedent for future Congresses that will allow future administrations to just cite that. It makes no sense to me.”

Calls for comment to the Pentagon were not returned immediately. The Pentagon has been concerned that releasing the information would jeopardize the criminal case against Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he hasn't gotten involved so far in the struggle between Lieberman and the administration, but that he remains hopeful of a resolution.

"I haven't been asked by either Lieberman or the White House to do anything on that, so I'm just going to wait and see what they work out," he said.

A court fight with the administration wouldn’t happen without a full vote by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate, which is far from certain. Congress could also cite Attorney General Eric Holder or Defense Secretary Robert Gates in contempt, but the enthusiasm for that among Democrats is similarly unclear.

Collins told The Hill she is “absolutely” in lockstep with Lieberman.

“I feel it’s our duty and I think it’s unfortunate that it’s come to this. But I think we have an obligation to get the information we need to do our investigation,” Collins said. “The administration just does not want to cooperate, and I think that’s just really unfortunate.”

Lieberman and Collins specifically want access to witnesses to the shootings, allegedly committed by Hasan, as well as data such as Hasan’s personnel file.

Since Lieberman subpoenaed Gates and Holder last month, the administration has shared limited information, but not enough to satisfy Lieberman or Collins. The two senators offered to follow a certain protocol regarding the sought-after information. The administration has also offered some private briefings.

Both Lieberman and Collins said Thursday that the administration has still been resistant to share information, even with their offer of safeguards.

“We’ve tried to show just what we would do to allow us to interview these people and to double-, triple-protect against pre-trial publicity, which is what they’re worried about,” Lieberman said.