David Axelrod talks about the New Yorker piece, Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and White House-Justice Department tensions in C-SPAN interview
By Anne E. Kornblut
Is the White House unhappy that Attorney General Eric Holder sought to try the confessed 9/11 mastermind in Manhattan federal court?
Yes, according to an article by Jane Mayer in the latest issue of the New Yorker.
And in an interview late Friday, senior adviser David Axelrod did not dispute that a rift had emerged between the White House and the Justice Department over the 9/11 case, which has recently become a political sore spot for the administration.
Despite a rising tide of opposition to having a trial in Manhattan, which has sent the administration scrambling to find another location, Axelrod said it was not a mistake for Holder to announce the trial would be held there. But Axelrod did not defend it -- or portray it in any way as a decision that came from the White House. "The attorney general was responding under the protocol that was developed between the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense for the prosecution of terrorists," Axelrod said in an interview for C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" series set to air on Sunday.
Acknowledging White House resistance to the Justice Department decisions, Axelrod continued: "Rahm has a perspective that's different. He's the chief of staff. He looks at things from a legislative perspective, he looks at things from other perspectives."
Rahm Emanuel, Mayer reported, strongly opposed giving the 9/11 plotters a civilian trial.
"Believe me, we have disagreements all the time within the White House, within the administration," Axelrod said. "That's as it should be. People have different perspectives, different points of view."
Maybe so. But it is not every day that a senior administration official admits it.
Privately, White House officials have expressed increasing frustration with Holder since last year, in large part because of his decision to investigate whether past CIA interrogation techniques were illegal. In the New Yorker piece, Mayer writes that Emanuel was frustrated not only that Holder took a backward-looking approach toward the CIA investigations but also try Khaled Sheikh Mohammed in federal court -- despite objections from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), an important administration ally on other issues, including the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center.
A sharp partisan debate over national security policy has arisen over the last few weeks as Republicans have objected to the administration's handling of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian arrested after allegedly trying to bomb a plane as it landed in Detroit on Christmas Day. Sen. Scott Brown rode to victory in Massachusetts in part by criticizing the detainee policy, accusing Obama of giving terrorists "new rights." Other Republicans echoed the claim, based in part on inaccurate reports that Abdulmutallab had stopped cooperating with investigators after he was read his Miranda rights.
Axelrod, in the interview, described all such criticism as unfounded. He repeated a list of earlier suspects handled by the Bush administration in a similar way. "We haven't invested anybody with one more right than they had before we took office," he said. "And we're actually not behaving any differently than the last administration did. Which raises the question: is this really about politics, or is it about dealing with the issue?"
Web Politics Editor
February 5, 2010; 7:43 PM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , National Security
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