President Barack Obama faces a moment of truth on Friday: It’s the deadline for him to veto a bill that would allow family members of people killed on 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia’s government for its alleged involvement in the attacks.
If he does nothing, the bill, which was unanimously approved earlier this month by the Senate and House of Representatives, will become law at midnight.
Obama is widely expected to veto the legislation, the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, on the grounds that it would open up the US to lawsuits in courts around the world. It would also outrage the Saudis — touted as a powerful American ally in the Middle East — who have denied any involvement in the attacks and threatened to retaliate by selling off billions of dollars worth of US debt holdings.
Lobbyists for the Saudis scrambled all summer to scuttle support for the bill and pick it apart with a public relations campaign. The Podesta Group, run by lobbyist Tony Podesta, brother of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief John Podesta, blasted out pitches to journalists “urging you to raise your voice to back President Obama’s veto,” according to emails obtained by VICE News from the Department of Justice.
“As you may know, I work for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” wrote Podesta Group’s John Anderson in one email. He goes on to say that while “everyone sympathizes with 9/11 victims and their families,” the bill would open up the US and its diplomats to legal retaliation around the globe.
The emails obtained from the Justice Department include letters from a slew of countries “expressing concern” to members of Congress, courtesy of the public relations firm Qorvis. Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Sudan, Morocco, Jordan, and Pakistan all urged US lawmakers to rethink the bill.
The letter from Sudan, categorized by the State Department as a “major” human rights abuser, sums up the beef: “Passing such a law would open the way for many states to pass similar laws, which would affect the international system as a whole, and would set a risky precedent to international relations.”
“It may, also, have a significant economic damage,” the letter added.
If Obama vetoes the bill as expected, Congress could override him with a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber.
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