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House Democrats downplay findings in Marathon bombing report

Prior to the April 15 bombing, Tamerlan Tsarnaev (left) had twice escaped scrutiny from customs officials while traveling.

FBI via REUTERS/file

Prior to the April 15 bombing, Tamerlan Tsarnaev (left) had twice escaped scrutiny from customs officials while traveling.

WASHINGTON — Democrats on the House Committee on Homeland Security on Thursday downplayed the significance of a highly critical report that highlighted a series of law enforcement communications gaps preceding last year’s Boston Marathon bombing.

A day after the review was released by committee Chairman Michael McCaul of Texas, Democrats gave vague answers as to why they declined to endorse the report, or, in some cases, even read it.

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“There is nothing particularly new or significant in it,” Representative Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement. “Information sharing and intelligence gaps are well known. We have discussed them at committee hearings, and we all need to work on fixing them.”

Only one of the 14 Democrats on the committee signed onto the report: Representative Bill Keating of Bourne. The seven Republicans who hold leadership posts on the committee signed on, calling Democratic objections petty partisanship. Keating has bemoaned his colleagues’ dissent, saying the focus should be on the families affected by the attack and on preventing another incident.

Congressional reports are often released without fanfare, and not all of them have formal committee votes. In this case, however, the review was highly anticipated as the first official accounting of how the FBI, Customs and Border Protection, and other agencies handled information relating to one of the suspected bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, during the two years before the April 15, 2013, bombing at the Marathon finish line.

The report offered greater detail of how federal authorities missed opportunities to further question Tsarnaev, who was killed before he could be captured. It recommended several changes, including enhanced secondary checks of suspects at airports and greater cooperation between federal authorities and local law enforcement.

Rather than being an impetus for change, the report so far has become another example of Washington’s inability to overcome its partisan divide. Democrats now are complaining that they were not included in the report’s preparation.

“Democrats did not sign on to the report because the final redacted version was not shown to our members or myself,” Thompson, who declined requests for an interview, said in the statement. “Up until [Wednesday], it was a moving target.”

Republicans adamantly deny that they withheld information from Democrats on the committee. They also confirmed that Thompson’s staff was on a committee fact-finding trip to Russia and submitted changes that were incorporated into the final version of the committee report.

“The Democratic members had the opportunity to sign on, and the report has been available for weeks,” said Charlotte Sellmyer, a spokeswoman for the Republican-led committee. “The Democrats contributed to the report and traveled with the Republican staff to Russia as part of the investigation.”

Representative Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana, said through a spokesman that he wasn’t aware that a report was in the works, even though the committee has had several public hearings and distributed copies of a draft report in December to various federal agencies.

“Yesterday was the first time we’d seen or heard about the report,” said Brandon Gassaway, a spokesman for Richmond.

The House committee is planning to hold a hearing on the report on April 9. Adam Comis, a spokesman for the Democratic members of the committee, said Thompson planned to attend the hearing and he left open the possibility that Democrats would join in making other recommendations after other reviews are completed.

Matt Viser can be reached at matt.viser@globe.com. Noah Bierman can be reached at noah.bierman@globe.com.
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