Published January 29, 2010
Bowing to intense and deepening bipartisan opposition to conducting the criminal trials for the 9/11 hijackers in the heart of New York City, the Obama White House has begun discussing alternative locations with the Justice Department, senior administration officials told Fox News.
The White House denied a New York Daily News report that it ordered the Department of Justice to find a new location for the trials, which are sure to attract massive publicity and require intense security preparations wherever they are held.
However, senior administration officials confirm alternative trial locations are being sought because Congress is almost sure to deny President Obama the funds necessary to conduct the trials, as originally planned, in the federal courthouse mere blocks away from the Twin Towers, the epicenter of the 9/11 attacks that took the lives of nearly 3,000 civilians.
"The discussions are under way in case the option of holding the trials in New York City is foreclosed upon at either the state or the federal level," an Obama administration official said.
Up to now, the Obama administration has stood by Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to move the suspects, including self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to New York to be tried in federal court rather than before a military commission, as many Republicans have demanded.
The White House is not backing down from its stance that a civilian trial is appropriate and worthy venue for seeking to bring the alleged conspirators to justice.
"President Obama is still committed to trying Mohammed and four other terrorist detainees in federal court," spokesman Bill Burton told the Daily News on Thursday. "He agrees with the attorney general's opinion that ... (the detainees) can be litigated successfully and securely in the United States of America, just like others have."
The news that officials are considering a new venue comes as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who initially was open to the idea of holding the trials in the city, says he'd be "very happy" if the White House reconsidered. Security has been an issue, as well as cost, estimated at $200 million a year.
The discussions on alternative trial locations suggest the New York City trial plan is all but dead. Congressional and Democratic sources tell Fox News that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has told lawmakers the administration will stand down if the House and Senate, as appears likely, deny funds for 9/11 trials in the Big Apple.
House Minority Leader John Boehner said Wednesday the Obama administration doesn't have the votes to proceed.
"There is not going to be a trial in New York, I guarantee it. There is no appetite for the trials in Congress," Boehner said.
More than half a dozen senators have forged a bipartisan coalition against funding 9/11 trials there.
No timetable has been set for resolving the impasse. Military charges against Mohammed and his co-defendants have been dropped. Criminal charges are pending resolution of a final trial site.