Why the Orlando terror transcript walk back?

FBI unveils killer's full 911 transcript after backlash
FBI unveils killer's full 911 transcript after backlash


    FBI unveils killer's full 911 transcript after backlash


FBI unveils killer's full 911 transcript after backlash 02:19

Story highlights

  • Almost 50 people were killed in an attack at the Orlando Pulse nightclub on June 12
  • Buck Sexton: Initial decision to redact transcript of shooter's call was 'clumsy'

Buck Sexton is a political commentator for CNN and host of "The Buck Sexton Show" on TheBlaze. He was previously a CIA counterterrorism analyst. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)The decision by the FBI and Department of Justice to censor the release on Monday of Orlando shooter Omar Mateen's 911 call transcript was nothing short of bizarre. But it also suggests something troubling about the administration's reluctance to level with the American people about the threat we face.

Officials released a redacted transcript of the call Mateen made in the early hours of June 12 after he had started shooting people at the Pulse nightclub. Strangely missing was information that was already public knowledge, namely that during the call, Mateen had pledged allegiance to ISIS and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. After widespread -- and justified -- criticism, the full version was released.

Buck Sexton
That the full version was released the same day proves that it was a foolish decision from the start. How could anybody think that this was a good idea? But the more pressing question is why this happened in the first place.
    None of the usual explanations for government hiding information from public eyes applied here. It wasn't about maintaining the integrity of an ongoing investigation, protecting intelligence sources and methods, or respecting a victim's privacy. In this case, the DOJ chose to redact words that were already recorded on tape and confirmed last week.
    It's one thing for the federal government to hide information from the American people for national security or investigative reasons. But to try to hide the full details of a major terrorist attack -- including information that was blatantly obvious from the context of the call -- feels like clumsy, Soviet-era propaganda.
    After all, anyone paying attention and with access to Google already knew what the "omitted" words were and what they reveal -- that he was a jihadist bent on mass murder on behalf of an Islamic terrorist group.
    So, why did the FBI trot out a ludicrous, edited transcript, if only for a few hours? Only two explanations here are remotely plausible:
    The first theory -- the one favored by Obama administration defenders -- is that the harebrained decision came entirely from within the FBI. As this line of argument goes, a bunch of career civil servants who investigate crimes and make arrests decided to engage in a little creative editing and obfuscation so as not to give additional "credit" to the Islamic State for the terrorist attack.
    Even if true -- and frankly, it's asking for a heavy suspension of disbelief -- this explanation for the terror transcript omission is completely unsatisfactory. It's hardly reassuring that the FBI thinks the American people are either too dumb, or too irresponsible, to be trusted with the full truth of a major terrorist attack and the motivations behind it. Additionally, it would be troubling for anyone in the FBI to think that the Bureau has a mandate to protect the public from uncomfortable truths.
    The after-the-fact explanation the DOJ and FBI jointly offered for all this -- that they didn't want to give Mateen a "publicity platform"-- is absurd. ISIS had praised the attack, the shooter was named countless times, his photo plastered across every major news outlet, and his motivations made obvious during the phone call. If denying publicity to Mateen was the goal, they failed miserably. Does anyone really think ISIS cares whether the DOJ version of Mateen's transcripts named them or not? To borrow from Paul Ryan: "preposterous."
    So this brings us to the second possible explanation for the terror transcript omission: politics.
    We know that Attorney General Loretta Lynch went on television Sunday to announce that the Mateen transcripts would be edited, so she was well-aware of this plan. Lynch is the head of the DOJ, and a close Obama confidante. It is a completely reasonable expectation that she would have discussed such a high profile issue at length with the president. Any suggestion that neither the Attorney General nor the president had input into the public handling of the most deadly terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11 is far-fetched. And insulting to the intelligence of the American people.
    The decision reeks of politics.
    Remember, the DOJ and FBI officials are part of the executive branch, which means they ultimately take orders from Obama. Administration apologists can claim otherwise, but there are plenty of ways that the White House can apply pressure to any federal bureaucrat. This could apply to both the initial decision to edit the transcripts, and then the claims of non-partisan responsibility from within the Bureau that followed.
    That the transcript debacle could all have been born of a political choice -- albeit a foolish one -- isn't surprising in the least. The Obama administration has a long, well-established history of avoiding Islamic terror terminology. President Obama dragged his feet on calling Chattanooga and San Bernardino what they obviously were -- jihadist terrorism. The president consistently justifies this recalcitrance as necessary in his quest to avoid "Islamophobia," a desire so strong, the administration infamously classified the Fort Hood attack as "workplace violence."
    All this suggests that the simplest explanation for the decision on the transcript is also the most likely. Given the flimsy, self-contradictory explanations for this latest whitewashing of jihadist terrorism, it appears the Obama administration once again chose to construct a narrative that prioritizes the protection of Muslim sensitivities over the right of Americans to know who attacked them in Orlando -- and why.