As the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks approaches, the White House is defending its handling of classified federal evidence that victims’ families have been seeking on the role that Saudi Arabia possibly played—even as some of those family members say President Joe Biden should skip memorial events this year if the documents aren’t released before then.
“Our hearts are with the families who lost loved ones on 9/11—especially in these days preceding the 20th anniversary of the attacks coming up just next month,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday. “The White House Office of Public Engagement and the National Security Council staff have had several meetings with groups representing the families of those who perished on 9/11 regarding their document requests and to hear their thoughts on policy priorities that will continue to be a priority.”
Nearly 1,800 people directly affected by the attacks signed onto the letter saying they won’t welcome Biden to events honoring the victims.
“We cannot in good faith, and with veneration to those lost, sick, and injured, welcome the president to our hallowed grounds until he fulfills his commitment,” they wrote in their letter, as reported by NBC News.
During his campaign for president, Biden promised to urge the Department of Justice to work with the 9/11 families if elected. The Trump administration had used the state secrets privilege to keep the documents private.
Psaki said Biden’s kept his pledge “that the invocation of such a privilege be narrowly tailored and not be undertaken to prevent embarrassment to a personal organization.”
“He remains committed to that pledge he made during the campaign,” she said. “Of course, any steps would be taken by the Department of Justice.”
Psaki didn’t directly address whether Biden plans to attend any memorial events, as presidents have done each year in the past two decades since the attacks.
Events typically are held at the locations of the attacks—the site of the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the spot near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed after passengers and crew overpowered hijackers.
Nearly 3,000 victims died in the attacks.
“Twenty years later, there is simply no reason—unmerited claims of ‘national security’ or otherwise—to keep this information secret,” the families wrote in their letter on Friday. “But if President Biden reneges on his commitment and sides with the Saudi government, we would be compelled to publicly stand in objection to any participation by his administration in any memorial ceremony of 9/11.”
In a letter to an attorney representing many of the families, Biden wrote last fall that, if elected, he would direct his Department of Justice “to err on the side of disclosure in cases where, as here, the events in question occurred two decades or longer ago.”