WASHINGTON — Tensions simmered on Capitol Hill Wednesday during two congressional hearings on the Boston Marathon bombings. Federal officials in Washington referred to surviving alleged bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s court appearance going on in Boston during disagreements in their hearings.
From the opening gavel, the temperature in the U.S. House hearing, Cannon building, Room 311, started to rise. House Committee on Homeland Security Chair Rep. Michael McCall began with an accusation. The Texas Republican said the FBI is withholding information that the committee has repeatedly requested. The request is simple: What did the FBI know about the Tsarnaev brothers before April 15, the day of the bombings? McCall also says FBI authorities are refusing to testify.
Boston Marathon Bombings: Significant Developments
- April 15: Marathon Bombing Kills 3
- April 18: FBI releases photos of 2 suspects
- April 18-19: MIT officer killed; shootout in Watertown; one suspect is dead
- April 19: Surviving suspect captured after lockdown, day-long manhunt
- April 22: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is charged
- July 10: Tsarnaev pleads not guilty
- Sept. 23: Defense Wants More Time To Make Case Against Death Penalty
“Unfortunately, the FBI has refused to appear and continues to refuse this committee’s appropriate request for information and documents crucial to our investigation into what happened in Boston,” Rep. McCall said. He was backed up by a Massachusetts Democrat on the committee, Rep. Bill Keating.
The FBI responded after the hearing, saying it has good reasons for not sharing the information, namely the ongoing investigation and pending prosecution. In a statement, the FBI cited Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s arraignment, saying it wants to protect the integrity of the judicial process.
Tensions with the FBI were also apparent at a Senate hearing happening at the same time, though the atmosphere was more cordial over in the Dirksen building, Room 342.
Massachusetts public safety official Kurt Schwartz testified that the FBI did not inform State Police that the dead bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev had been investigated a few years ago. Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis told the Senate panel that needs to change.
“If there is information that comes in about a terrorist threat to a particular city, then local officials should have that information,” Davis said. “There should be a mandate somewhere that the federal authorities have to share that with us so that we can properly defend our community.”
Still, Davis praised the FBI for cooperating seamlessly with his department after the marathon bombings. And the Senate committee was full of warm words for Boston and its medical community and emergency responders.
Richard Serino, an administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told the senators that Boston was well-prepared for the attack thanks to the dollars that have been flowing from Washington.
“‘Boston Strong’ was no accident,” Serino said. “It was years of planning, years of training, years of purchasing the right equipment for the right people at the right time, and it saved lives.”
Even so, another expert warned the panel against seeing Boston as a test case for domestic terrorism response. Arthur Kellermann, a physician and policy analyst for the RAND Corporation, said Boston was a special case.
“The number of trauma patients any one hospital got was very manageable. We cannot put seven trauma centers in every American city. Massachusetts can barely afford it, our nation can’t afford it,” Kellermann said. “We’ve got to raise our game in American hospitals.”
Anywhere else, Kellermann said, the human toll would have been higher.
So that’s the picture of contrasting congressional panels. At the House Homeland Security Committee, tensions rose in a dispute with the FBI over what could have been done better to prevent the Boston Marathon bombings. While at a parallel hearing across the way, the Senate Homeland Security Committee learned how so much more could have gone worse.