Oversight panel leaders push on Fort Hood inquiry

Senators say they are seeking the Obama administration's cooperation, but feel they have no alternative to a subpoena for an investigation into the November shootings.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Wednesday they have made one more offer to get the Obama administration's cooperation in the committee's inquiry into the November Fort Hood shootings, but indicated they would have to seek authorization for a subpoena.

Lieberman said he and Collins had "no desire" to subpoena the Defense and Justice departments but feel they have no alternative. Allowing the administration to use the argument that giving the committee access to the documents and witnesses it has requested would jeopardize successful prosecution of Army Maj. Nidal Hasan would set "a very bad precedent" that "will haunt future congresses," he said.

"Unfortunately, I do believe we will be returning to the committee for authorization," Collins said, because she believes the administration will not cooperate.

Lieberman opened a scheduled committee markup session with an update on the efforts to get the Pentagon and the Justice Department to provide documents and witnesses to allow the committee to investigate what might have been done to prevent Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, from killing 13 soldiers and wounding others at Fort Hood.

Despite multiple offers to ensure there would be no conflicts between the committee's efforts and the planned criminal trial of Hasan, "we regret that the administration has refused to cooperate," the chairman said. "In a good-faith effort to avoid the need to issue a subpoena," Lieberman said, he and Collins have offered to write "a set of protocols" that would ensure the committee's proceedings would not interfere with Hasan's prosecution.

Lieberman said he did not intend to hold a public hearing with the requested witnesses, but needed to have committee investigators to interview them so the panel could determine what could have been done to prevent the shootings and how future shootings could be avoided.

"If we are not able to reach an agreement, we will return to the full committee for authority to issue a subpoena," he said. The Senate would have to approve the subpoena.

Collins noted that the administration has provided the information the committee seeks to others, including the committee led by retired Navy Adm. Vern Clark and former Army Secretary Togo West. "Clearly, we have a constitutional right" to the information, she said.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., both members of the Homeland Security panel, supported Lieberman and Collins' efforts.

Pentagon and Justice spokesmen have insisted that the committee has been provided the documents it needs, but believe access to witnesses could compromise the pending trial.