Bipartisan Congressional Letter to Attorney General Garland Requests Review of “States Secrets Privilege” Used by DOJ

On May 11, 2021, a bipartisan group of 22 members of Congress sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting review of the decision by the Department of Justice under the Trump Administration to assert the so-called “state secrets privilege” in litigation brought by victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

The letter was sent by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), along with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), joined by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Chris Murphy (D-CT), as well as Representatives Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Nydia Velazquez (D-NY), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Grace Meng (D-NY), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), Jim Himes (D-CT), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), John Larson (D-CT), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY).

According to the letter, “Your predecessor, on more than one occasion, asserted the ‘state secrets privilege’ in litigation brought by the victims of the 9/11 attacks and their families against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We understand that the families in this litigation seek documents that they believe would show Saudi Arabia’s complicity in the attacks, as well as information related to Operation Encore, an investigation conducted by the FBI between 2007 and 2016. Like other victims, these families deserve to go to court with all the evidence available to them under a fair application of the law.”

The letter is the most recent in a series of actions taken by federal lawmakers seeking the release of the 9/11-related documents referencing Saudi connections to the attacks.

  • In February, Senators Richard Blumenthal and Robert Menendez sent a letter to former acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson asking for the release of “as much of the relevant documents and information sought by the 9/11 families as possible.”
  • Senator Kirsten Gillibrand in a Senate Select Intelligence Committee Hearing on April 14, 2021, publicly questioned FBI Director Christopher Wray as to why she was denied access to see the Operation Encore report, which summarizes the FBI’s lengthy investigation into the Saudi role in 9/11. Wray promised to release documents in the coming weeks.
  • Also in April, two letters were sent to key government officials – one from five Republican members of Congress to Attorney General Garland, and a second from House Foreign Affairs Middle East Subcommittee Chair Ted Deutch to FBI Director Wray – asking for the release of FBI and CIA 9/11-related investigative documents.

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  • Stephanie Wolf