Attorney General Eric Holder suffered an embarrassing setback yesterday when the White House ordered the Justice Department to find another location for the trial of the 9/11 suspects. If true, this would be a troubling intervention of the White House into a pending criminal case and seems to follow political pressure on the venue for the trial.
New York Michael Bloomberg yesterday complained about the inconvenience and expense to New Yorkers if the trial were held in Manhattan. This follows opposition from Democratic and Republicans senators in even giving these defendants a fair trial in federal court — as opposed to a military tribunal that does not afford them the full rights under our Constitution.
Bloomberg stated that he would “prefer that they did it elsewhere.” Objecting that “[i]t would be an inconvenience at the least, and probably that’s too mild a word for people that live in the neighborhood and businesses in the neighborhood . . . There are places that would be less expensive for the taxpayers and less disruptive for New York City.”
It is very troubling to see such decisions being made by the White House under political pressure. The choice of venue is supposed to be made by prosecutors on the basis of the most logical venue after considering the location of the crime and other factors. We just ended a period in which the Justice Department was politicized by the Bush Administration to an unprecedented degree.
This story follows Obama’s statements that virtually assured the public of convictions, here. It also followed a very political press conference by Holder where he seemed to go out of his way to describe why a Manhattan venue would maximize the bias of a jury at the trial.
It also creates some serious logistical problems. Holder picked the New York prosecutors to handle the case over such rivals as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. If they move the trial outside of New York city, these prosecutors will have to move much of their offices or a new team selected.
It is also disconcerting to see such wavering in a major case. These are important decisions that should be made after thorough vetting and analysis. To order such a change at this stage not only shows political influence but a lack of planning within the Justice Department.
Sen. Chuck Schumer’s office said he was “pleased” with the decision and stressed that the change occurred after he spoke “with high-level members of the administration and urged them to find alternatives.”
According to the report below, the change caught prosecutors off-guard and one federal official observed “[t]hey’re in a tizzy at Justice over Bloomberg. It’s like a half-baked soufflé – the plan is collapsing.”
The problem is whether political pressure will now mount for a tribunal and, to paraphrase a popular song, “if you can’t make it in New York, you can’t make it anywhere.”