Gibbs Says He'll Check 'Timeline' to Find Out if Obama Knew in Advance That Underwear Bomber Would Be Mirandized

February 4, 2010 - 5:49 PM
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told CNSNews.com he would go back and check the timeline to find out if President Obama knew in advance that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab would be told on Christmas Day he had the right to remain silent.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs listens to a reporters question, Monday, March 9, 2009, during his daily press briefing in the White House Pressroom at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

Washington (CNSNews.com) – White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said he did not “have the timeline” and therefore did not know at Thurday's press briefing whether President Barack Obama knew in advance on Christmas Day that Miranda rights were going to be read that day to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the terrorist who tried to detonate a bomb on Northwest Flight 253.

Gibbs, however, said he would check to find out. "I'll go back and look at the timeline," he said.

FBI agents told Abdulmutallab he had the right to remain silent and consult a lawyer only about ten hours after he was arrested. Up until that point, the terrorist had only been interrogated for about 50 minutes. After he was Mirandized, Abdulmutallab initially stopped talking to federal investigators. According to a report this week in The Washington Post, Abdulmutallab only began cooperating with federal officials again last week after some of his family members had been brought to the United States from Nigeria. 

Republicans in Congress have been sharply critical of the decision to Mirandize Abdulmutallab. Also,  Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and National Counterterrrorism Center Director Michael Leiter have all testified that they were not consulted in advance on the Christmas Day decision to tell the terrorist he had the right to remain silent.

The administration filed an initial criminal complaint in federal court against Abdulmutallab on Dec. 26, the day after he was Mirandized. Later, on Jan. 6, the administration formally indicted Abdulmutallab.

At the White House on Thursday, CNSNews.com asked Gibbs: "Did the President know in advance Abdulmutallab would be Mirandized?"

"I'm sorry?" said Gibbs.

"Did the President know in advance that Abdulmutallab would be Mirandized?" asked CNSNews.com.

"I'll go back and look at the timeline," said Gibbs. "Those decisions were made, as you know, by the Attorney General, by the FBI, and done so in conjunction and in accordance with agencies throughout the government."

"I understand he was notified before they indicted him," asked CNSNews.com, "but before the Mirandizing on Christmas Day was--"

"The answer that I have is: I don't have the timeline with me," said Gibbs.

Multiple news reports on Christmas Day indicate President Obama received multiple briefings about the Abdulmutallab situation that day. Thus far, however, the question of whether the president knew in advance that Abdulmutallab would be Mirandized has not been answered.

In a Jan. 21 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder about the issue, Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the attorney general to tell them who made the decision to Mirandize Abdulmutallab. The letter said: “Department of Justice’s (DOJ) decision to afford this terrorist Miranda warnings and a civilian prosecution appears to have been made without soliciting input from the Department’s administration partners in the war on terrorism.”  On Jan. 26 letter, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) and the ranking members of the Senate Armed Services, Intelligence, Judicary, and Homeland Security committees sent Holder a letter asking him to answer questions about the decision to Mirandize Abdulmutallab and try him in civilian court and to testify in Congress on the issue. 

On Feb. 3, Holder responded by letter to McConnell. In the letter, Holder takes credit for making the decision to try Abdulmutallab in civilian court.  But he speaks of the decision to Mirandize Abdulmutallab as if it were made independently by lower level officials in the FBI and Justice Department. 

“The initial questioning of Abdulmutallab was conducted without Miranda warnings under a public safety exception that has been recognized by the courts," wrote Holder. "Subsequent questioning was conducted with Miranda warnings, as required by FBI policy, after consultation between FBI agents in the field and at FBI Headquarters, and career prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and at the Department of Justice.”