Sparring within House intelligence panel over Fort Hood grows sharper
By Ben Pershing
The investigation into last week's deadly shooting at Fort Hood has driven a sharp split between Democrats and Republicans on the House intelligence committee, with each side drawing vastly different conclusions from the same information.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (Mich.), the ranking Republican on the Intelligence panel, sees a suspect in the case, Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, with ties to Muslim extremists that should have been flagged, and the possibility of a cover-up by the Obama administration. And Democrats see a Republican -- and gubernatorial candidate -- playing politics and grabbing headlines.
The partisan divide on the Fort Hood probe broke open Saturday, when House members were still in Washington to vote on the health-care reform bill. Hoekstra sent a letter that day to Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair and the heads of the CIA, FBI and NSA, raising "the possibility that serious issues exist with respect to the performance of U.S. intelligence agencies," and asking that they preserve "all documents and materials connected with this matter."
In a statement released Monday, Hoekstra turned up the heat on the White House. "President Obama said people should not jump to conclusions about what happened at Fort Hood," Hoekstra said, "but the administration is in possession of critical information related to the attack that they are refusing to release to Congress or the American people."
House Democrats were dismissive of that charge. "That's ludicrous," said Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a member of the intelligence panel.
Intelligence committee chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) also took an apparent shot at Hoekstra, saying in a statement Monday: "I am disappointed that some have rushed to the news media with unfounded information in order to gain headlines. I hope that my colleagues will refrain from speculation, pray for those who were affected by this tragic incident, and let investigators do their work."
The crux of the partisan fight has been over a simple subject -- briefings. Hoekstra and other committee Republicans hoped to receive a briefing from Blair on the Fort Hood case on Saturday, given that members were still in town but about to leave for a week-long recess. They were rebuffed in their request.
"We could have done it Saturday," said Rep. Michael Conaway (R-Texas), a member of the Intelligence panel. "So yeah, we're frustrated."
But Democrats feel the briefing schedule is just fine.
"I spoke with the Director of National Intelligence on Friday morning, and Director Blair committed to briefing members of the Committee on any possible information the Intelligence Community may have had with respect to the tragedy at Ft. Hood last Thursday," Reyes said in his Monday statement, with the briefing expected to occur when the House returns to session next week.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kit Bond (R-Mo.) -- the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate intelligence committee -- both declined to criticize the administration for its performance so far in the investigation.
Feinstein said Monday Blair had assured her she would "be getting a fuller briefing soon," and Bond said, "First, it's important to let the investigators do their jobs. Then we will find out the who, what, and when, if anything, our intelligence community knew and whether such information was shared with the appropriate action agencies."
Some senators got a briefing on Fort Hood Monday evening, as did leadership aides and the majority and minority staff directors of several House committees.
Beyond the dispute over the briefing schedule, the parties are even squabbling over who on the committee was at work Saturday and who wasn't.
Democrats complained that Hoekstra did not alert Reyes before he sent the unusual request, nor did he ask whether any Democrats might want to sign on to the letter. A committee Republican aide pointedly responded that the minority could not consult with the majority about the letter beforehand, because while GOP committee members and staff were at their posts Saturday working on Fort Hood issues, panel Democrats were not.
A Democratic aide called that charge silly, pointing out that the chairman and all committee Democrats were in the Capitol Saturday -- along with every other member of the House -- and the majority staff director was also on the Hill and fully engaged on Fort Hood.
Democrats privately suspect they know Hoekstra's real motive: He is running for governor of Michigan and, they say, is eager to use this story to get media coverage. But Hoekstra spokesman Jamal Ware said Democrats were deflecting attention from their own inaction.
"Congressman Hoekstra won't make excuses for doing his job and conducting oversight on this matter," Ware said. "This is an issue that should concern all members of Congress."
Hoekstra and Reyes have clashed repeatedly in the three years since the two men have led the intelligence panel. They have feuded over the content of the committee's annual intelligence authorization bill and the procedure for moving it, and over individual controversies, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-Calif.) allegation that the CIA had lied to Congress about detainee abuses.
Given that history and the sharp rhetoric flying this week, it remains to be seen whether Reyes and Hoekstra can come together to determine what, if anything, the committee can and should do to investigate Fort Hood. Both sides say they will wait until members return and are fully briefed next week before deciding their next move.
November 10, 2009; 4:34 PM ET
Categories: Hearing Watch , House
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