New FBI documents released in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) investigation suggest then-FBI Director Robert Mueller was involved in a potential coverup denying that the FBI found connections between a Saudi Arabian family living in Sarasota, Fla., and the September 11, 2001 attacks. Mueller’s involvement in this case might cast a pall over his investigation into Donald Trump’s alleged connections with Russia.
The case revolves around Abdulaziz al-Hijji, his wife Anoud, and her father Esam Ghazzawi, an advisor to a Saudi prince. The al-Hijjis abruptly left their home in Sarasota two weeks before the September 11 attacks, leaving behind jewelry, clothing, and cars.
An original FBI investigation reportedly uncovered links between the Hijjis and the 9/11 attacks, but subsequent FBI statements denied the connections. In 2012, the website Broward Bulldog (now Florida Bulldog) filed a FOIA request for FBI files regarding the case.
In 2014, the FBI released 11 pages, including statements reiterating that the al-Hijjis had left the U.S. shortly before the 9/11 attacks and that “further investigation” had revealed “many connections” between the family and 9/11 suspects, the Miami Herald reported.
The FBI later claimed there were no connections between the al-Hijjis and 9/11 — and that’s where Mueller comes into the picture.
One FBI document, dated September 2012, was a copy of an April 16, 2002, report that agents found “many connections” between the family and “individuals associated with the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.” The couple’s name was blanked out, but remained discernible. This flatly contradicted FBI statements that agents had found no connections.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Jacqueline Maguire wrote in a 2014 memorandum that the 2002 report was “a bad statement. It was overly speculative and there was no basis for the statement.”
The FBI had at least three reports detailing connections between the family and the 9/11 hijackers, however.
In response to Florida Bulldog’s FOIA request, the FBI produced 80,000 classified pages for U.S. District Judge William J. Zloch of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The FBI also gave Zloch the index organization to process the files. Mueller, now special counsel in the Trump-Russia investigation, was referenced in a document in this database.
The former FBI director was mentioned in a note about an FBI white paper dating back to September 15, 2010. The paper was written shortly after the Bulldog and the Miami Herald published a story about the departure of the al-Hijjis shortly before 9/11.
“It was created to brief the FBI Director concerning the FBI’s investigation of 4224 Escondito Circle,” the al-Hijjis’ Sarasota address, according to the index.
The paper, “Alleged Sarasota Link to 9/11 Hijackers,” reported that the “FBI found no evidence that connected the family members mentioned in the Miami Herald article to any of the 9/11 hijackers, nor was any connection found between the family and the 9/11 plot.”
“That Mueller received a briefing about the Sarasota investigation suggests that the issues the Bulldog raised required the attention of the FBI’s highest authority,” Thomas Julin, the Bulldog’s Miami attorney, wrote in court papers.
The FBI’s continued denial of al-Hijji connections to 9/11 suggest that Mueller approved the apparent deception. It remains unclear whether or not Mueller was aware of the earlier FBI reports connecting the Sarasota family to the hijacking.
More than 16 years after the 9/11 attacks, many questions remain unanswered. Last week, a lawyer for Saudi Arabia urged a judge to toss out a lawsuit filed by the families of 9/11 victims, arguing there is no evidence the kingdom was complicit in the attack. The families have submitted 4,000 pages of materials accusing Saudi Arabia of providing material support to Al Qaeda before the attack. They filed the suit last March, six months after Congress enabled it.
Last month, three members of Congress, two Republicans and one Democrat, introduced House Resolution 663, calling for the declassification of all 9/11 documents “to the greatest extent possible.”
Questions about Mueller’s objectivity, and the true purposes of his Russia investigation, have increased in recent months. During the 2016 election, FBI employees Peter Strzok and Lisa Page sent text messages about derailing Donald Trump, and reports have surfaced about a “secret society” in the FBI working to undermine the Republican candidate.
To make matters worse, Mueller’s FBI kept secret an investigation into Russian corruption in the U.S. uranium market — just as Hillary Clinton was approving the Uranium One deal, handing over 20 percent of U.S. uranium to a Russian company. In contrast, the FBI worked fast to apprehend Russian spies when they got too close to Clinton.
Mueller’s FBI also purged anti-terrorism training material of any documents deemed “offensive” to certain Muslim groups, according to documents revealed by Judicial Watch in 2013. Mueller met with the Islamist organizations Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), two groups named as co-conspirators in the 2007 Holy Land Foundation terror financing case.
Given this history, it seems plausible Mueller might have known that the FBI report denying connections between the al-Hijjis and the 9/11 attacks was false, but approved it anyway.
This case further raises questions about the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, a country of “high persecution” against Christians (ranked the 12th worst country for Christians by Open Doors). The U.S. considers Saudi Arabia an ally against Iran, but the country imposes strict Sharia law on its citizens and has allegedly funded terrorism.
Did Mueller’s FBI cover up the al-Hijjis’ connections to 9/11 out of some desire to placate Muslims or to honor Saudi Arabia? Expect more revelations about this case as Zloch processes the FBI documents.