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US Govt Asks to Delay Release of 9/11-Related Documents

 
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2019 9:22 pm    Post subject: US Govt Asks to Delay Release of 9/11-Related Documents Reply with quote

Trump Administration Asks to Delay Release of 9/11-Related Documents
Victims’ families want the information as part of their a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia
https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-administration-faces-pressure-to-re lease-9-11-related-documents-11567784751

Firefighters worked at the site of the World Trade Center terrorist attack in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. PHOTO: MARK LENNIHAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
By Aruna Viswanatha, Alex Leary and Sadie Gurman
Updated Sept. 6, 2019 3:49 pm ET

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration on Friday asked for more time to decide whether to shield documents concerning allegations of official Saudi involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a sign that top Justice Department officials are struggling how to handle demands from victims’ families to release the information.

The families are seeking the information as part of a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia that accuses its government of helping coordinate the 2001 attacks. The U.S. government’s pending decision comes amid broader tensions between Washington and Riyadh, through which President Trump has largely stood by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The law allows the Justice Department to withhold certain documents under the rarely used states secret privilege, designed to prevent the release of information that would harm national security if disclosed in the course of civil litigation.

Invoking the privilege requires Attorney General William Barr ’s approval.

A judge agreed to postpone a Friday deadline until Sept. 12, after the Justice Department suggested in a court filing that the Federal Bureau of Investigation intends to try to keep at least some of the information from public view.

“We make this request because the FBI’s response to the motion is being coordinated at the highest levels of the Department of Justice,” Manhattan’s U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman wrote.

It was the second time in recent weeks the Justice Department has sought more time, an indication officials are carefully weighing the decision.

Releasing the information could further strain the relationship with the Saudi government. But refusing to do so would pit the administration and the FBI against the families of 9/11 victims and survivors, hundreds of whom delivered a letter to Mr. Trump recently urging him “to instruct Attorney General Barr not to invoke privileges and to give us the FBI documents so that we can finally learn the full truth and obtain justice from Saudi Arabia.”

The letter makes an appeal to Mr. Trump as a New Yorker, and includes deprecating remarks about former Justice Department officials whom Mr. Trump has previously attacked, as well as criticism of former President Obama.

Signers of the letter said they were “betrayed” by Mr. Obama, who in September 2016 vetoed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, which authorized families to sue the government of Saudi Arabia. Mr. Obama said he had deep sympathy for the families but felt the legislation would expose the U.S. to similar lawsuits. The veto was then overridden by Congress.

The Justice Department and the FBI declined to comment.

The families and their backers are hopeful the appeals have resonated. “It is my belief that President Trump wants to succeed for the 9/11 families where President Obama failed,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R., Fla.) who has had several conversations with Mr. Trump about the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

The victims’ federal lawsuit in New York accuses the Saudi government of helping coordinate the 2001 suicide attacks. Nearly 3,000 people were killed when terrorists crashed hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and, after passengers resisted, a Pennsylvania field.

Most of the attackers were from Saudi Arabia; Riyadh has denied complicity in the attacks.

The families had sought an unredacted copy of a four-page 2012 summary of an FBI inquiry into three people who may have assisted two of the hijackers in California in finding housing, obtaining driver’s licenses and other matters. The Justice Department must explain whether it would provide an unredacted version of the document.

Two of the people, Fahad al-Thumairy and Omar al-Bayoumi, were linked to the Saudi government, according to FBI and congressional documents. The third person, whose name is redacted, is described in the summary as having tasked the other two with assisting the hijackers.

Last year, lawyers for the families subpoenaed the FBI for an unredacted copy of the document, on the belief that the third person was potentially a senior Saudi official who exercised authority over both of the men.

Saudi Arabia’s official involvement in the planning of the 9/11 attacks is the subject of some dispute. The 9/11 Commission said in its 2004 report it didn’t find evidence that Mr. al-Thumairy had provided assistance to the two operatives. It also said it had seen “no credible evidence” that Mr. al-Bayoumi “believed in violent extremism or knowingly aided extremist groups.”

In 2015, the commission revisited the issue and assessed more recent evidence regarding Messrs. al-Thumairy and al-Bayoumi, and said it didn’t find the new information enough to change the original findings. It said there was an “ongoing internal debate” within the FBI about the potential significance of some of the information, and encouraged FBI leadership to review the perspectives and continue the investigation accordingly.

Attorneys for the victims’ families argued that the two men had provided support to the two hijackers in a “highly coordinated, state-run-and-initiated covert operation,” and filed affidavits written by former FBI officials over the past two years making the case.

The alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, opened the door in July to helping victims of the attacks in their lawsuit against Saudi Arabia if the U.S. government spares him the death penalty at a Guantanamo Bay military commission.

Write to Aruna Viswanatha at Aruna.Viswanatha@wsj.com, Alex Leary at alex.leary@wsj.com and Sadie Gurman at sadie.gurman@wsj.com

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