Democrats joined Republicans on a key House panel Tuesday in voting for a formal inquiry into the development and distribution of a contentious Homeland Security Department report that described military veterans as possible recruits for extremists.
In a rare bipartisan move, the House Homeland Security Committee unanimously approved a resolution of inquiry that calls for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to turn over all documents used to draft the report “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.”
“When this DHS-produced assessment first surfaced in April, like many Americans, I had issues with its content,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and committee chairman.
“Certainly its definition of ‘right-wing extremism,’ which did not clarify that extremist violence was the department’s true focus, raised considerable concern,” Mr. Thompson said. “So did the suggestion that returning war veterans posed a potential threat to the homeland.”
The subpoena measure was originally introduced May 6 by Rep. Peter T. King of New York, the panel’s ranking Republican, along with other party leaders. But the move was criticized then by Mr. Thompson as “another GOP stunt aimed at embarrassing the new administration.”
The full House must approve the subpoena for documents before it becomes binding. The documents must be turned over within 14 legislative days of such a vote.
“This is not a partisan issue, but an American issue,” Mr. King said.
Ms. Napolitano appeared before the committee last week and said the report had been pulled from the agency’s internal Web site.
Mr. Thompson did not say during Tuesday’s hearing why he changed his mind, and a spokesman did not return a call for comment.
“I am interested in getting all of the facts that went into this report,” Mr. Thompson said during the hearing. “I would expect the department to provide without prejudice whatever information is available.”
In an interview after the committee vote, Mr. King called it an “unprecedented display of cooperation on a resolution of inquiry.”
“I assume Bennie wanted to do the right thing, and he realized that we have members across the board who are dissatisfied with the department, and it really created a firestorm in many districts.”
“It is important to find out why it happened and to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Mr. King said.
However, Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., New Jersey Democrat, defended the report and said it “does not target veterans.”
“They are simply listed as targets potentially coming out of war, not unlike Tim McVeigh, who came out of a military situation and became radicalized in the process and killed Americans,” Mr. Pascrell said.
One section of the report, titled “disgruntled military veterans,” said that Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis assesses that “right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.”
The report also cites McVeigh as an example of such radicalization, which became a lightning rod for criticism from veterans and the American Legion.
In a footnote, the report defined “right-wing extremism” as including hate groups, anti-American groups or groups dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration. It also listed those who oppose gun control as potentially facilitating violence.
Ms. Napolitano initially defended the report after it was reported by The Washington Times on April 14, but later told lawmakers the report was not properly vetted or approved before it was sent to state and local law enforcement officials.
The measure also calls for the department to turn over all written material to reflect when the research and writing began on the report, a written description of clearance procedures and written opinions or guidance from several internal agencies, including the DHS’ Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.