Homeland Security

Hillary Hedges on 9/11 Lawsuit Bill: 'I Haven't Studied It'

(a katz/Shutterstock.com)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hedged on ABC this morning about whether she would support Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) legislation to allow 9/11 families to sue sponsors of terrorism — a bill the Obama administration opposes.

After Clinton’s appearance in which she said she didn’t know enough about the bill to determine whether she’d break with the Obama administration on the issue, her spokesman said she would side with “efforts” of the New York senator.

Schumer’s Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in January. The bill would allow families of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to sue countries that support terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. The bill is also forward-looking: if groups like Hamas or ISIS kill an American on American soil, the bill would enable victims to sue any sponsors of the groups in federal court.

“Without passage of JASTA, victims of 9/11 and their families are being denied the ability to hold accountable foreign sponsors of terrorism because of a major loophole in our legal system,” Schumer said after the bill passed committee. “…Unfortunately, no amount of compensation will ever repair the broken hearts of a family that lost a loved one to mindless hate, however, passage of this bill will bring a small measure of justice to our victims of terror.”

The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who urged action in a floor speech last month. “As our nation confronts new and expanding terror networks that are targeting our citizens, stopping the funding source for terrorists grows even more important,” Cornyn said. “So I hope senators can work together to get this critical bipartisan bill done soon.” 

The Saudi government is fuming over the legislation, and warned lawmakers last month that the kingdom will sell off billions in U.S. assets in revenge. The Obama administration has been lobbying against the bill, with Secretary of State John Kerry saying in February the legislation could “expose the United States of America to lawsuits and take away our sovereign immunity and create a terrible precedent.”

Asked about the bill this morning, Clinton replied, “I don’t really know about that… I’d have to look into it. Obviously, we’ve got to make anyone who participates in or supports terrorism pay a price, and we also have to be aware of any consequences that might affect Americans, either military or civilian or our nation.”

Host George Stephanopoulos noted to the former head of the State Department that the issue has been around for several years.

“Well, I know there’s been an issue about it for quite some time, I don’t know about the specific legislation that you’re referring to. But obviously, I’ll look into it,” she replied.

“But you’re not prepared to say now whether you support it or oppose it?” Stephanopoulos pressed.

“I can’t, I haven’t studied it. Unlike some people — I do try to learn what’s at the core of any question before I offer an opinion, because you know it’s not enough to say what’s wrong, I think you’ve got a responsibility to say how you’re going to fix it,” Clinton responded.

After the show, Clinton’s traveling press secretary, Nick Merrill, tweeted a statement: “Hillary Clinton supports the efforts by Senator Schumer and his colleagues in the Senate to secure the ability of 9/11 families and other victims of terrorist acts to hold accountable those responsible. As president she would work with Congress to this end.”

The New York primary is Tuesday.

Last year, Schumer asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Kerry to not get involved in the case Sokolow v. Palestinian Liberation Organization, in which the PLO and Palestinian Authority were ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to American victims of six terrorist attacks in Israel between 2001 and 2004.

Plaintiff Mark Sokolow was in the World Trade Center, survived the 9/11 attacks, and four months later took his family on a trip to Israel. They were injured when a suicide bomber attacked Jaffa Street in Israel. They and other victims used the Antiterrorism Act of 1990 to sue the Palestinian leaders.

Schumer asked Lynch and Kerry to “refrain from taking any action in the case,” brought under a law enacted “so that terrorists and state sponsors of terrorism are held accountable for their terrible crimes.” That request from the senator was ignored.

“The size of the judgement in this case reflects the severity of the crimes and the large numbers of families affected,” he continued. “I believe that the jury’s decision in this case, and the judge’s subsequent determinations, should be respected and the wheels of justice should be allowed to move forward without interference from the administration.”

According to State Department spokesman Mark Toner, the Statement of Interest filed by the U.S. government expressed “U.S. concerns about the harms that could arise if the ability of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to operate as a governmental authority is severely compromised.”

“Critical U.S. national security and foreign policy interests” should be taken into account in the bond amount, the administration argued.