Top administration officials are getting nervous that they may not be able to proceed with one of their most controversial national-security moves: trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused 9/11 conspirators in federal court in New York City. Last November Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. portrayed the trial as a way to showcase the American justice system to the world—and to accelerate President Obama's stalled plans to shut down the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay. But because of shifting political winds in Congress, the trial is now "potentially in jeopardy," a senior official, who did not want to be named talking about a sensitive situation, tells NEWSWEEK. The chief concern: that Republicans will renew attempts to strip funding for the trial and, in the aftermath of the bombing attempt aboard Northwest Flight 253, pick up enough support from moderate Democrats to prevail. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham says he will force another vote on his amendment to stop the trial (which was defeated 54-45 in November) once Congress reconvenes. "With Detroit and everything else going on, we've got a pretty good chance of winning this thing," says Graham, adding that he's privately heard from a number of Democrats, saying "they're with me." GOP Rep. Frank Wolf says he plans a similar move in the House. "I'm afraid it's probably going to pass," says Democratic Rep. Jim Moran, who has strongly backed the administration on the issue.
Another big factor? The price tag. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently sent a letter to the White House budget office seeking more than $216 million to provide security for the trial this year—and more than $200 million for each year after that. The figures have prompted some critics to say that, given the years a complex conspiracy case could take, the final cost could approach $1 billion. (The U.S. Marshals Service has briefed congressional staff members on a separate request for an extra $118 million for surveillance aircraft and armored vehicles to guard against terror attacks. White House budget officials, however, knocked the figure down to $40 million.) The Justice Department has yet to indict the suspects, nor has it given Congress the required 45-day notice that it plans to bring them to New York. But spokesman Matthew Miller says the attorney general remains "committed to bringing to justice those allegedly responsible for the murder of nearly 3,000 people"—and "we can do it in trials that are safe, secure, and respected around the world." If Holder's plans are thwarted, though, one top administration official, who also didn't want to be named talking about delicate issues, notes there is a Plan B—reviving the case against the alleged 9/11 conspirators before a military tribunal, just as the Bush administration tried to do.