President Barack Obama is taking a larger role in deciding how and where the 9/11 plotters will be tried as the administration Friday appeared to sidestep questions about the use of a military commission.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama is stepping up his involvement, but ducked whether the administration is considering abandoning civilian courts for a military commission, as Attorney General Eric Holder appeared to suggest Friday.
Obama still has not written off a Manhattan trial, Gibbs said, though a New York City Council hearing Friday morning sought to keep up pressure on the White House to change the venue.
"There are a series of things that are being looked at, most appropriately the security and logistical concerns of those in New York, as the decision is being made," Gibbs said in response to reporters' questions.
The involvement of Obama and his aides signals a shift on the 9/11 trials as opposition in New York City grows, members of Congress threaten to cut off funding, and Democrats take political heat from the GOP's attack on their handling of terrorism.
Holder, in a Washington Post report Friday, said he still expects alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to be tried in a federal civilian court, but conceded it's possible that won't happen.
"At the end of the day, wherever this case is tried, in whatever forum, what we have to ensure is that it's done as transparently as possible and with adherence to all the rules," Holder told the Post. "If we do that, I'm not sure the location or even the forum is as important as what the world sees in that proceeding."
Gibbs said Holder was responding to a specific question about whether commissions could hold fair trials.
He said Obama is not making the decision on his own, but has set up a process and will hear from many people. He refused to say what Obama was considering but hinted he's open to moving the venue from New York City.
"He's not in the Map Room with a big map, picking locations," Gibbs added.
In Manhattan, scores of politicians, business leaders and residents flocked to City Council chambers Friday where Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) implored council members and the public to keep up their protests. "There is a chance this still could slip through the cracks," he said, referring to a possibility a trial could remain in the city.
But King said he believed there is now a 90 percent likelihood Obama would move it. "The problem right now is where the trial will go," he said. "I don't know of anyone who wants to say, 'Yes, bring the trial to my city, to my county.' "
King's description of the decision to hold the trial of Mohammed and four others in federal court in Manhattan as "one of the most irresponsible decisions by any administration" drew a standing ovation from lower Manhattan residents, who sported signs reading "prisoner in my home."
A spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who first supported but now opposes the city venue, said his administration awaits clarity from the federal government before commenting.