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Senators press Obama on Fort Hood probes
White House wants lawmakers to slow their investigations

By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 19, 2009

A bipartisan group of senators began a concerted push Wednesday to get more cooperation from the Obama administration in its reviews of the Fort Hood shootings, which left 13 dead and a raft of questions about information-sharing among intelligence agencies.

In addition to the public hearings that Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) is set to begin Thursday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) demanded Wednesday that his panel receive the results of a White House review of agency investigations of suspect Nidal M. Hasan's communications with a radical Muslim cleric who has ties to al-Qaeda.

Congressional Democrats have not been nearly as aggressive in their oversight of the Obama administration as they were during the Bush administration. The actions on Capitol Hill this week, however, demonstrate a growing impatience, particularly among senators, with the White House's preference that lawmakers slow down their inquiries.

Lieberman's hearing Thursday, the first on Capitol Hill regarding the Texas shootings, will start what potentially could be a more assertive approach to administration oversight, at least on matters of national security.

"We are not interested in political theater," Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Wednesday. "We are interested in getting the facts and correcting the system so that our government can provide the best homeland security possible for the American people."

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who is leading the investigation with Lieberman, said information-sharing is the most troubling issue that must be addressed. "There's a lot we don't know at this point. That's why we're doing the investigation," she told reporters. "But that's an example of an information restriction that I feel I need to learn more about."

Even some of President Obama's most steadfast allies -- Leahy was one of the first senators to endorse his presidential campaign -- have questioned whether intelligence agencies crossed their signals.

Leahy agreed, at the administration's request, not to initiate a formal inquiry as federal investigators conduct their own. But he warned the administration that his committee will move ahead at some point.

"I look forward as this committee conducts appropriate oversight to find out exactly what happened, where steps were taken, and -- and especially where steps were not taken," Leahy said.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. continued the administration's push to slow the pace of congressional investigations, telling Leahy's panel Wednesday that the first order of business is gathering facts about the case and then working on legislative fixes. [Story, A3.]

"Once we have a handle on that, I think that we can propose and work with this committee on ways in which we can prevent such a tragedy from occurring again," Holder said.

Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, was unmollified, telling the attorney general: "The FBI did not pursue an investigation of [Hasan] because they concluded that the e-mails were consistent with his research at Walter Reed, and no contact was made with the Department of Defense. I understand that a thorough investigation will take time to complete, but we need to protect our troops now."

House Democrats have indicated that they will move more slowly on the investigative track, first requesting that all members of relevant committees receive closed-door briefings on the progress of the look into Hasan's background. House intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.) told reporters Tuesday that the administration specifically asked him not to embark on a formal probe.

Lieberman said he spoke with FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and Army Secretary John M. McHugh, who did not discourage his investigation but expressed "some understandable concerns about approaching witnesses" involved in their side of the inquiry.

Lieberman's probe will focus on how counterterrorism agencies handled communications between Hasan and the cleric alleged to have al-Qaeda ties and other potential areas of domestic terrorism linked to radical Islam.

Yemeni American cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi wrote on his Web site that Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, is a "hero" for allegedly killing 13 soldiers in advance of his scheduled deployment to Afghanistan. Hasan wrote Aulaqi via e-mail last December, communications that were investigated by the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force. Many lawmakers have questioned why Hasan was allowed to stay in the Army while communicating with someone under U.S. surveillance for links to terrorists.

Obama has ordered an internal review of how that Hasan-Aulaqi investigation was handled, to be presented to him by Nov. 30, at which point Leahy has requested that he also receive the results "consistent with my responsibilities . . . and my constitutional obligation to conduct rigorous congressional oversight."

Staff writers Ellen Nakashima and Ben Pershing contributed to this report.

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