The news that Barack Obama has decided to insert himself personally into the review of the proper venue for adjudicating the cases of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other 9/11 plotters should have some people at the Department of Justice nervous. After all, Obama delegated the decision entirely to his Attorney General, Eric Holder, who has struggled to defend it, especially after widespread criticism of the handling of the EunuchBomber. If Obama wants to address mounting anger over both situations and a bipartisan refusal by New York’s political class to hold a criminal trial there, he’ll have to make a decision that will undoubtedly look like a rebuke to his AG:
President Obama is planning to insert himself into the debate about where to try the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, three administration officials said Thursday, signaling a recognition that the administration had mishandled the process and triggered a political backlash.
Obama initially had asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to choose the site of the trial in an effort to maintain an independent Justice Department. But the White House has been taken aback by the intense criticism from political opponents and local officials of Holder’s decision to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a civilian courtroom in New York.
Administration officials acknowledge that Holder and Obama advisers were unable to build political support for the trial. And Holder, in an interview Thursday, left open the possibility that Mohammed’s trial could be switched to a military commission, although he said that is not his personal and legal preference.
In fact, it appears that Holder may already be going under the bus:
Senior White House officials said that the decision to try Mohammed in New York was Holder’s and that no single person in the administration was responsible for handling the politics of that choice. In an effort to avoid leaks, Holder kept the decision close in the days leading up to his Nov. 13 news conference, calling New York officeholders that day to inform them. Several New York officials said they have dealt exclusively with Holder, first during the rollout of the announcement and more recently as he struggles to find another venue.
It’s never a good sign when White House sources begin laying all of the blame for a bad decision on the shoulders of a Cabinet member. In this case, Holder now has two politically nutty decisions to re-think, and don’t be too surprised if the White House starts blaming more of the Abdulmutallab decision through anonymous leaks. Cabinet members exist to give Presidents a way to escape bad performance, through the time-honored method of pushing them out the door.
Yid with Lid sees the writing on the wall,although he’s not buying the premise that Holder acted independently:
There is one simple reason for the President’s reluctance to get involved, plausible deniability. As long as he publicly keeps controversial decisions at arms length, he can place the blame on others.
Obama’s latest victim is Attorney General Eric Holder.
Like the decision to investigate and possibly prosecute CIA staff involved in enhanced interrorgation techniques, President Obama has stated that the decision to move the 9/11 terror trials to a civilian court in New York City, has been Eric Holder’s and Eric Holder’s alone.
If Obama’s intervention results in reversals of both decisions, it’s difficult to see how Holder can remain at the DoJ. These two decisions are the most important he’s made all year, and if he got both wrong — and the White House blames him for the decisions — how can anyone argue that Holder could still have the confidence of the President? Just getting one of these wrong would be a fall-on-your-sword moment for a Cabinet official. Two would be entirely untenable.
Update: Here’s the AP’s take: “Administration may abandon civilian 9/11 trial.”