Grassley to Trump: State Dept. Should Put American Victims of Terrorism ahead of PLO
Jan 24, 2019
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa today expressed astonishment that State Department officials are working to undermine broadly bipartisan legislation signed by President Trump to promote justice for Americans victimized by terrorism. In a letter today to President Trump, Grassley, a former chairman and senior member of the Judiciary Committee and author of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1992 and its 2018 amendments, described how State Department officials are seeking to ignore the collective will of Congress and the President at the expense of American victims of terrorism.
Both chambers of Congress passed Grassley’s Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act without objection last year, which President Trump signed into law. The law makes clear that certain foreign entities benefitting from American tax dollars should be answerable in U.S. courts if they face allegations of supporting acts of terrorism that killed or injured Americans overseas. Despite the broad support for the law, officials from the State Department began lobbying Congress late last year to strip a key provision from the law aimed at helping secure a day in court for American victims seeking justice against the PLO for supporting acts of terrorism.
“You have made protecting the United States and its citizens from terrorism a top priority. I applaud and fully support this effort. Which is why I am surprised that individuals in your administration are deliberately working to undermine core protections that you recently signed into law for U.S. victims of terrorism,” Grassley wrote today in a letter to President Trump. “If your administration’s anti-terrorism strategy is, as you have described, ‘America first,’ why is the State Department putting the interests of the PLO ahead of American victims?”
Grassley offered a compromise to delay the law’s application to certain U.S.-funded programs with the Palestinian Authority, while protecting and encouraging resolution of U.S. victims’ outstanding claims. The State Department, however, rejected the compromise without providing any formal feedback and apparently remains intent on addressing the concerns of others at the expense of U.S. victims.
Grassley tweeted twice recently about the State Department’s apparent efforts to undermine the law and President Trump’s priorities, observing “we need an American desk at our own state dept!”
Full text of Grassley’s letter to President Trump follows:
January 24, 2019
Via Electronic Transmission
The Honorable Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
You have made protecting the United States and its citizens from terrorism a top priority. I applaud and fully support this effort. Which is why I am surprised that individuals in your administration are deliberately working to undermine core protections that you recently signed into law for U.S. victims of terrorism.
I led the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1992 (ATA) through Congress and into law. The ATA gives U.S. victims of international terrorism their day in court against those who carry out or support terrorism. It provides some semblance of justice and compensation for Americans whose lives have been forever impacted by terrorism. Equally important, the ATA sends an unambiguous message to deter international terrorism—those who support terrorism will face the full force of the U.S. justice system.
The law operated as intended until recent, flawed court decisions gave terrorists and their supporters a jurisdictional loophole. The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 (ATCA), which I introduced, closes the loophole. It makes clear that if certain defendants choose to benefit from U.S. taxpayer dollars, they should be answerable in U.S. courts to allegations of supporting terrorism. Nothing about the law prohibits the U.S. from funding any program it wishes. It simply requires a tradeoff, in the interest of U.S. victims and deterring international terrorism.
This is common sense. And Congress agreed.
The ATCA was considered and passed through regular order as a standalone bill without objection by the House Judiciary Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, the full House, and the full Senate. On October 3, 2018, you signed the ATCA into law.
Two months later, however, at the very end of the 115th Congress, I learned from news reports that individuals in your administration were meeting with lawmakers to try and “fix” the law to protect certain overseas programs funded by taxpayer dollars. My staff and Chairman Goodlatte’s staff worked in good faith with your administration to resolve any concerns while ensuring that terrorists are not let off the hook.
It now seems, however, that the State Department has no interest in addressing both sides of the issue. I recently proposed a compromise to the State Department that would delay the ATCA’s impact on certain security assistance programs, while ensuring that U.S. victims of terrorism can still have their day in court. Yet, my proposal was rejected and apparently did not even warrant formal feedback from your administration. Instead, the State Department remains intent on striking entirely from the new law a core provision that is of most concern to the Palestinian Authority—who just happen to be defendants in pending claims by U.S. victims of terrorism.
If your administration’s anti-terrorism strategy is, as you have described, “America first,” why is the State Department putting the interests of the PLO ahead of American victims?
I remain willing to work in good faith with your administration on language that will address the stated concerns, while—most importantly—protecting the very victims whose stories and suffering motivated Congress to take action last year.
Charles E. Grassley