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With Eye on Congress, Administration Rethinks Terror-Trial Venue- CQ Today

Jan. 29, 2010 – 1:45 p.m.

The Justice Department is looking for an alternate venue outside of Manhattan to put five alleged terrorists on trial, after running into bipartisan resistance from Congress and New York officials.

The issue promises to figure prominently as Congress writes the fiscal 2011 appropriations bills, particularly in the spending measure for the Justice Department.

An administration official said Friday that the Justice Department still intends to hold a trial in Manhattan, but is exploring other options in case Congress blocks the administration from using a federal courthouse there.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced in November that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and four other alleged 9/11 conspirators would be put on trial in New York City.

The administration’s new contingency planning is the result of a confluence of criticism from Republican lawmakers who oppose criminal trials for any suspected terrorists, and Democrats nervous about the prospect of similar trials in their states or districts.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer , D-N.Y., has asked the administration to include a separate line item in the president’s fiscal 2011 budget request to cover the security costs of the trial. New York Democrats Kirsten Gillibrand , Carolyn B. Maloney and Yvette D. Clarke also have called for the federal government to cover New York’s security costs. Gillibrand has said she would prefer the proceedings be moved.

Republicans are expected to try to block criminal trials for suspected terrorists altogether.

“Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and the 9/11 conspirators should be tried by military commission — not a civilian court where they will be given the same legal rights as American citizens,” Sen. Lindsey Graham , R-S.C., said Friday.