Press conference Q&A on plot to assassinate Saudi ambassador to the U.S.

Transcript of the Q&A during the Justice Department press conference on the thwarted plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States:

FBI Director Robert Mueller (left) and Attorney General Eric Holder (right). PHOTO SOURCE:

When you said you were going to hold Iran accountable, what exactly did you mean by that? 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“We’ll be working with our colleagues at the White House, at the State Department, at the Treasury Department, and they will be taking further action, which they will be making known over the next few hours.”

Just to be clear, Mr. Attorney General. To what degree are you saying the Iranian government was complicit? Did they know about this on the outset? Did they direct it? Did they order it? What exactly are you saying? 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“Well, the organization that I referenced in my remarks is a component of the Iranian government. As we’ve alleged in the complaint, this was directed and approved by elements of the Iranian government and specifically senior members of Quds force, which is a part of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Iranian military. High-up officials in those agencies, which is an integral part of the Iranian governmentm were responsible for this plot.”

Is this then the upper reaches of the Iranian government knew about this and blessed this? 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“We are not making that charge at this point.”

Can you tell us more about the other attacks that were to follow? What is the understood motivation or purpose behind the overall plot? 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“We are restricting our comments to that which we’ve charged in the complaint.”

Why were the charges brought in New York? Were there any charges to be brought in DC? 

Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York: 

“As is the case when you have an international plot that touches a lot of different jurisdictions, cases can be brought in a lot of jurisdictions. One of the basis of the jurisdiction to be in the Southern District of New York, as I pointed out in my own remarks, that there was a $100,000 payment – a down payment – on the alleged assassination attempt and that traveled through a bank in the Southern District of New York.”

Besides the wiring of the money, what were the other overt acts? Did anybody obtain the explosives? 

Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York: 

“The complaint alleges just a couple of overt acts. There are the discussions, conversations that took place, meetings that took place. The complaint does not allege that explosives were actually purchased. Remember as the complaint lays out, the entire time that this operation was being investigated, the confidential source was operating under the guidance and monitorship of FBI and other law enforcement agents, so no explosives were actually placed anywhere and no one was actually ever in any danger.”

Can you address the role of what the Mexican government played in the investigation since the subject traveled back and forth there? Could you tell us something about how they were involved? 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“Well, we can certainly say that as we’ve all commended the Mexican government for their cooperation with us in this, helping us uncover and helping us ultimately unwind it. I don’t want to go into too much detail as to what the nature of the cooperation was, but it was significant. I don’t think that without it, we would have been able to accomplish what we’ve announced today.”

Are there any other suspects at large in the United States? There’s reference here to others who were conducted – another who conducted surveillance in Washington of the ambassador. Are there any folks who you suspect of being apart of this plot still in the United States? 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“We don’t have any basis to believe there are any other co-conspirators present here in the United States.”

First, did the Iranian men know the ambassador’s favorite restaurant as it was discussed? Or was it something that the confidential informant came up with? Second, why is the other person – how is he still at large? 

Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York:

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to comment on the second question. In response to the first question, we should just be clear that, as the complaint lays out, there was never actually any identified restaurant. I referred to it as a fictional restaurant, I think, in my remarks. It was the way in which, as it was laid out in the complaint, the confidential source was providing information to people who were paying him to engage in this assassination, as to the details of it and the way in which he was going about setting up what was requested of him, you know, after the payment of money was made.”

Can you elaborate a little on what kind of attack this was supposed to be? A car bomb or what sort of attack? 

Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York: 

“Again direct you to the complaint. It’s not a very long document. There’s a discussion in the complaint about the way in which the assassination attempt would go off. And if memory serves, I think there’s a discussion between the defendant and the confidential source about the best way to do it, whether it should be indoors or outdoors, whether it should be a bomb or otherwise. At some point, again this is pretty explicitly laid out in the complaint, there’s a discussion about using explosive devices, which is why one of the charges in the complaint is use of a weapon of mass destruction.”

Mr. Attorney General. This case seems to have culminated over the same time the two hikers [release negotiation was taking place]. Was there any consideration or discussion at the State Department given to the timing of this case? 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“This case was brought as the facts warranted, as the facts dictated. We have been at this matter for a number of months, and the attorneys in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York with our colleagues in the National Security Division worked on this matter irrespective of the other things that were going on.”

At what point was the Saudi government brought in? 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“I’m not exactly sure when they were notified, but they have been notified and they will be reacting as well in a public fashion very soon.”

Are there actors in other countries that are in danger or threatened? 

Attorney General Eric Holder: 

“With regard to this conspiracy, I think one has to be concerned about the chilling nature of what the Iranian government attempted to do here. One of the things that our State Department will be doing will be getting in touch with other of our allies and nations around the world to make them aware of exactly what was thwarted here today.”



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