WASHINGTON — Bowing to growing pressure, the Obama administration dropped its plan to hold a trial of the 9/11 plotters in Manhattan as it began a search for other locations, according to reports Friday evening.
“New York is out,” an administration official told The Washington Post. “We’re considering other options.”
Late Friday evening Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) told Newsday his homeland security committee staffers had been told the decision was a “99.9 percent” done deal. But he said he also understood there remained some resistance from within the Department of Justice and that nothing official had been announced.
With New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg withdrawing his support for the trials, and pressure from King and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to find another site, the administration found itself hard-pressed not to switch course Friday.
After word leaked late Thursday that the Justice Department is exploring other sites, Bloomberg stepped up his campaign against a trial in his city of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and fellow plotters.
And in a letter to President Barack Obama on Friday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chair of the intelligence committee, said a New York trial heightened the risk of a terrorist attack.
Obama administration officials acknowledged they are discussing other locations to hold civilian trials for the suspects, but by late Friday they had issued no official announcement on what they would do.
The president did not mention the controversy in his public appearances Friday, including his talk to House Republicans in Baltimore. White House and Justice Department officials stood by the decision to try Mohammed in a civilian court, despite Republican demands he be tried in a military tribunal in Guantánamo Bay.
Bloomberg focused on the trial location in his weekly radio show Friday. He said he wanted the trial held elsewhere and that he told administration officials Thursday if it was held in New York it would be “phenomenally expensive” and “disruptive” to residents and businesses.
Without Bloomberg’s support, administration officials find themselves hard-pressed to stick to their plan. Asked if the trial would go ahead as planned, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said “that seems unlikely given the political reality.”
The White House may not have the votes to defeat a bill introduced by King late Wednesday to cut off funds for the trial.
Democratic support in New York is unraveling.
Taking a cue from the mayor, Schumer, the third-ranking Senate Democrat, and Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn) have backed away from the administration plan.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said she shares the concerns of Bloomberg and local businesses. “I am open to alternative locations,” she said.