WASHINGTON — The White House said today that the Justice Department unilaterally made the decision to withhold the pledge to ISIS from the transcript of the Orlando shooter Omar Mateen’s call to 911.
The DOJ and the Federal Bureau of Investigation reversed course Monday, issuing the unedited transcript after receiving criticism.
“The purpose of releasing the partial transcript of the shooter’s interaction with 911 operators was to provide transparency, while remaining sensitive to the interests of the surviving victims, their families, and the integrity of the ongoing investigation,” the agencies said in a joint statement. “We also did not want to provide the killer or terrorist organizations with a publicity platform for hateful propaganda.”
“Unfortunately, the unreleased portions of the transcript that named the terrorist organizations and leaders have caused an unnecessary distraction from the hard work that the FBI and our law enforcement partners have been doing to investigate this heinous crime,” they continued. “As much of this information had been previously reported, we have re-issued the complete transcript to include these references in order to provide the highest level of transparency possible under the circumstances.”
In the call, Mateen begins with Islamic prayer in Arabic and says, “I wanna let you know, I’m in Orlando and I did the shootings.”
“What’s your name?” the dispatcher asks.
“My name is, I pledge of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State,” Mateen replies.
“OK, what’s your name?” the dispatcher asks again.
“I pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi may God protect him [Arabic], on behalf of the Islamic State,” the FBI transcript continues, noting that he hung up after the dispatcher pressed Mateen on where he was in Orlando.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at the daily briefing that “this obviously is pursuant to an ongoing law enforcement investigation.”
“The decision about the release of the transcripts is one that was made solely by Department of Justice and FBI officials. They’re doing that consistent with their assessment about the best way to advance the investigation. And so the question for questions about the transcripts, I’d refer you to them,” Earnest said. “I’m saying that all of the decisions about releasing the transcripts were made by Department of Justice officials.”
Pressed on whether the White House has an opinion on the original redactions, the spokesman said, “The opinion of the White House is that we should not interfere with an ongoing law enforcement investigation, and rather that those decisions should be made consistent with the assessment that is made by law enforcement officials about the best way to advance their investigation.”
Earnest said the White House did not review the Justice Department’s censorship before the release of the transcript in the worst mass shooting on American soil and the most deadly terror attack here since 9/11.
“This is a decision that was made solely by officials at the Department of Justice and the FBI, consistent with their need to be as transparent as possible about the investigation but also make sure that they could advance the investigation by soliciting additional information about the suspect from the public,” he said.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said on the Senate floor today that he was “glad [the DOJ] had a chance to reconsider because this reveals what was going on in that nightclub in Orlando.”
“This reveals what the motivation was of the shooter, and this wasn’t some street crime incident. This was a premeditated terrorist attack on American soil,” Cornyn said.
“Failing to release the complete 911 tapes would have been an affront not only to any promise of open government, which the Administration has said they would be the most open, transparent government in American history. It would not only undermine the premise of open government, it would be an insult to the American people.”
Added the senator: “You can’t redact away the reality that a hate-filled killer pledged his allegiance to a terrorist organization before killing 49 Americans.”