Sen. Lieberman: Panel Will Probe Fort Hood Lapses The Connecticut senator says the homeland security committee will try to determine whether the deadly shooting at the U.S. Army post in Fort Hood, Texas, could have been prevented. Lieberman acknowledges it will be difficult to proceed without the Obama administration's cooperation but says he is confident the issue can be resolved.

Sen. Lieberman: Panel Will Probe Fort Hood Lapses

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We're joined now by Senator Joseph Lieberman, Independent from Connecticut. He's chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. And tomorrow he will hold a hearing on the Fort Hood attacks. Senator Lieberman, welcome to the program.

Senator JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (Independent, Connecticut): Thank you, Melissa. Good to be with you.

BLOCK: And first, I'd like to get your reaction to that memo described in Daniel Zwerdling's report, a memo from May of 2007 describing this long list of serious concerns at Walter Reed about Nidal Hasan's lack of professionalism and work ethic. As we've reported, that memo was sent on to Fort Hood. What are your thoughts on that?

Sen. LIEBERMAN: Yeah. Obviously this is one piece of information about Nidal Hasan and we will in our investigation gather a lot of information about him and about his work in the Army. This document, as you've suggested, goes less to any evidence of extremism, religious extremism or terrorism, but much more to a lack of professionalism. And, you know, it's troubling.

I can't see warning signs here that this is a man who would one day commit a mass murder, which I think was a terrorist act, but it certainly raises questions about whether he was prepared to be the kind of psychiatrist that we want treating military personnel.

BLOCK: Well, as your committee prepares to launch this inquiry, what is the aim? How do you define it, of what you want to find out?

Sen. LIEBERMAN: Yeah, our aim, quite simply, is to determine whether there was evidence at different places in our government, which if brought together, would have led people to effectively discharge Nidal Hasan from the military and therefore have prevented this murder at Fort Hood.

In other words, we're performing this investigation pursuant to our oversight responsibility as the Governmental Affairs Committee, but also to our responsibility as the Homeland Security Committee. And it's not unlike the investigation that we authorized the 9/11 Commission to do after the attack on America on 9/11. Or in another sense, the investigation our committee did into the failures of the federal government to perform adequately in response to Hurricane Katrina.

This is about whether the people working in the federal government did what we would want them to do in this case and if not, how can we make sure that dereliction of duty or that failure to coordinate information, to connect the dots, never happens again.

BLOCK: The Obama administration has said that FBI and Army officials will not appear before your committee while a criminal investigation is underway. So, if you don't have people with firsthand knowledge available to you, what can you really hope to learn about this particular case?

Sen. LIEBERMAN: Yeah. Well, that's a very important question. The truth is that if we get no cooperation from the administration, from the Pentagon, from the Justice Department, it's going to be very hard for us to fulfill our responsibility to conduct this kind of oversight investigation, to prevent this kind of massacre from ever happening again. But I think we're going to be able to work this out. I have no desire to interfere, quite the contrary, with the criminal investigation going on. I don't - our investigation doesn't need, for instance, to talk to people who were at Fort Hood on that afternoon. But I do need to talk to people, who, for instance, were in the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

So, I will say that I had a very good talk just a while ago with Secretary Gates about our desires to proceed and there will be a meeting in the next day or so to work out some ground rules. But I think the administration will cooperate. And we have different responsibilities and each is important. Theirs is to determine who murdered these people. And obviously they've already charged Hasan.

We have a different responsibility, which is to determine whether there are people in the Army or the Justice Department or anywhere else in the federal government who could've handled this case differently, particularly sharing information that might have sent such a warning signal that Dr. Hasan would effectively have been discharged and never been there at Fort Hood to kill 13 people.

BLOCK: Senator Lieberman, I'd like to switch gears and asking about health care.

Sen. LIEBERMAN: Oh, okay.

BLOCK: That old topic. You've said that you are opposed to a government-run public option.


BLOCK: And that if a public option is in the Senate bill, that you will not allow it to come to a final vote. In other words, that you would join in a Republican filibuster. Is that still the case?

Sen. LIEBERMAN: It is. I prefer to say that I would vote against cloture, not particularly join with anybody in any political party, because I'm for health care reform. And, you know, to me, and I think most everybody, health care reform has been, over the years and particularly over the last year if you look at last year's campaign, about doing the kinds of things that are necessary to reduce the ever-increasing cost of health care, to more aggressively regulate insurance companies so that, for instance, they don't deny health care to people based on preexisting illness or put artificial caps on benefits for people who are sick.

And then the third is to fulfill our moral responsibility and governmental responsibility to cover the millions of Americans who can't afford health insurance. That's the significant reforms we should be accomplishing, and I'm working very hard to do that. The so-called public option, the creation of a governmental insurance company just to me seems like the wrong thing to do at this time and totally unnecessary to achieve all the other great goals of health care reform.

So, people say to me, would you really vote against cloture to bring this health care reform bill to a passage? And I say, I hope and pray that it doesn't come to that. But I ask, really, from my side, would the advocates of the public option really stop us from doing the kinds of things I want to do? That's my question. I hope they don't force the issue that far.

BLOCK: Your critics say, as you know, that you are in the pocket of the insurance industry on this. There are a lot of insurance companies in your home state of Connecticut.


BLOCK: You've been called the senator from Aetna.


BLOCK: What do you say to that?

Sen. LIEBERMAN: Well, it's just deeply and personally offensive and there's just no basis for it. I'm taking the position I am on behalf of the taxpayers of the country and on behalf of what I think is good health insurance reform. I've never hesitated to take on the insurance companies when I've thought they were wrong. I mean, when I was attorney general of Connecticut I filed a major antitrust action against the insurance companies.

A few years ago I supported the Patient Bill Of Rights - that's all the insurance companies were against. And now I am supporting the move to take away the antitrust exemption of the insurance companies. So, you know, the personal ad hominem arguments are always irresistible, but they're not the best argument. So, people have an argument to make for the so-called public option, let them come out and debate me. I'm ready to take them on on the ground of substance.

BLOCK: Senator Lieberman, thank you for talking with us.

Sen. LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Melissa. Take care.

BLOCK: That's Senator Joseph Lieberman, Independent from Connecticut.

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