Two senior senators have issued subpoenas against the Pentagon and the Department of Justice for their refusal to hand over all the documents and witnesses Congress wants in its investigation into the shooting at Fort Hood in November.
The subpoena marks a rare flash point between investigators in the Democratically controlled Congress and President Obama's administration.
The Pentagon has repeatedly promised full cooperation after the conclusion of the trial of Maj. Nidal Hasan, who is charged with killing 13 military personnel at Fort Hood. But it is concerned that full cooperation now could compromise its case against Hasan.
The senators counter that it is important to discover sooner rather than later how the government missed apparent warning signs that Hasan posed a threat, and why that information wasn’t shared with the proper authorities.
Senators Lieberman and Collins, the chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, have sought the information since last fall.
“The purpose of the committee’s investigation of the Fort Hood attack is to answer questions that are critical to our government’s ability to counter homegrown terrorism,” wrote the senators in a letter that accompanied the subpoenas.
Pentagon standing firm
But Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday that the Pentagon would not divulge any information that would jeopardize the prosecution of Hasan, an Army psychiatrist with links to a radical cleric in Yemen.
The Pentagon has already made an exception, granting limited access to records and witnesses in its own investigation of the shootings at Fort Hood, led by former Army secretary Togo West Jr. and former chief of naval operations Vern Clark, a retired admiral. Although they were not given carte blanche to investigate the matter, they saw documents and talked to individuals that lawmakers have not been given access to.
Pentagon officials said they have tried to give lawmakers alternatives to what they sought. For example, instead of providing the committee with one of the investigators of the shooting who could be later called as a witness in the prosecution of Hasan, the Pentagon offered military superiors, for example, who could talk to some of the same information.
“We have tried to provide them alternatives to what they are asking for,” said one defense official who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity. “Instead of the witnesses themselves, having someone else in their chain of command who has information go and talk to the committee, and the committee has not accepted that.”
A question of timing
Ultimately, the issue is a question of timing, the Pentagon says. When the prosecution of Hasan is complete, the administration says it will provide as much information to Congress as it can. But that could take as much as a year, and lawmakers want to move faster.
If the administration refuses to relinquish any more information, the congressional committee would have to file a lawsuit in federal court. There, a judge would decide what information Congress is entitled to.