Republicans push for immediate Hill inquiries on Fort Hood
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The Obama administration's request that congressional committees slow their investigations of the Fort Hood shootings sparked denunciations Tuesday from Republicans on Capitol Hill, who pushed for an immediate inquiry of any warning signs before the massacre.
House and Senate Republicans, emerging from the most detailed briefings given to Congress since the Nov. 5 attack killed 13 at the central Texas Army post, said delaying investigations would put off legislative efforts to give military officials the tools to prevent similar tragedies in the future. They said such an effort would not interfere with the criminal investigation of shooting suspect Nidal M. Hasan, an Army major who was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan.
"Congress also needs to move forward to make sure we do our work to get to the right conclusions," said Rep. Peter Hoekstra (Mich.), the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee.
House Democrats, however, said they will heed the White House's request and hold off on initiating any fresh investigations. Several Senate committees pressed ahead with preliminary oversight hearings, but aides indicated that they expect little help from the administration.
Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.) said that the flow of information is being controlled from inside the West Wing by the National Security Council. He also said he will continue to request that all members of his panel receive the same briefing given exclusively Tuesday to senior members of key committees and congressional leaders.
After canceling congressional briefings Monday that were to be led by top Army officials, the administration dispatched a team of Pentagon and Justice Department aides to update senior lawmakers. Emerging from the classified briefings, members of both parties said it is clear that the administration does not want Congress interfering with the investigation.
Reyes said lawmakers need to understand that key agencies cannot answer many questions about Hasan's background at this point. "The simple answer is they don't have all the answers," he said.
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said he is willing to give the administration some extra time to continue its investigation but he demanded that key panels prepare for public hearings "as soon as possible."
"I think we're getting some additional information but certainly not complete, and I also think it won't be complete until we have hearings," McCain said.
The Senate's homeland security committee will hold a preliminary hearing Thursday on the Fort Hood shootings, but no FBI or Army officials will attend. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. will make an appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday -- one that was scheduled before the administration's request reached the Hill -- but he is not expected to provide new information on the Hasan investigation.
Across the Potomac, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is expected to decide this week on a Pentagon investigation of issues arising from the shootings, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. Gates is weighing who would lead the investigation and how to devise an investigative process that could deal with immediate issues as well as longer-range concerns, Morrell said.
The investigation would focus to some degree on the Army but would also cover the other military services, he said, adding: "There are issues that are Army-centric, and others that all the services need to look at."