WASHINGTON — Mayor Adams says a fear of lawsuits against the city has persuaded him against revealing records showing what officials knew about how the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks endangered New Yorkers’ health and safety.
In a letter to Reps. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), who asked the city to release its trove of 9/11 records last month, Adams said the city would not comply unless the lawmakers can come up with a way to cover costs and shield the city from getting sued.
Adams wrote that people still occasionally file suits against the city related to 9/11, and the city “cannot produce documents without expensive and expansive legal review to identify privileged material and consider litigation risks.”
“New York City must weigh the costs of such a review against the potential benefits, which are likely limited,” Adams wrote, pointing to numerous studies that have been done of the health impacts of the destruction of the twin towers and other structures at the World Trade Center.
None of those studies, however, had access to any of the information about then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s response to the crisis, and what the city actually knew about the dangers around Ground Zero, which federal officials falsely claimed to be safe at the time.
Nadler and Goldman suggested that concerns about lawsuits and costs are not as important as the need to better informing health officials about the exposures that sickened tens of thousands and writing the full history of 9/11.
“This a call for transparency,” Goldman told the Daily News. “And potential legal liability is not a valid reason to undermine true transparency. The victims and survivors of 9/11 deserve to know what the city knew.”
A joint statement from Goldman and Nadler, who is leading the effort, was more pointed.
“It is unfortunate that the City is declining to make available the priceless documents from the Giuliani Administration’s response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, that are essential to advancing medical research on behalf of those struggling with 9/11 illnesses,” the statement said. “We cannot put a price tag on the lives of our 9/11 families who desperately need the truth.”
It is not clear from Adams’ letter how significant legal cases arising from the secret documents might be, or what damage they could cause to Giuliani’s legacy as “America’s Mayor.”
Under federal laws passed to protect the city in the past, the city’s legal damages from potential 9/11 suits are capped at $350 million.
Regardless, cost should not be the main concern, Goldman said. “We are not satisfied with the mayor’s explanation,” he said. “We certainly understand the concern about legal liability, but we don’t believe that that should carry the day over transparency.”
Adams held open the possibility of relenting — if the feds will pick up any costs.
“Given the public interest in the production of these documents, New York City is working to estimate the cost of such a legal review,” Adams wrote. “We are happy to work with your offices to determine potential federal funding sources and any necessary federal legislation to make production of documents economically and legally feasible for the City of New York.”
Goldman suggested talk of covering the city’s costs is premature and besides the point when no one knows what is in the documents.
“We’d have to see what the information and evidence is,” Goldman said. “We’d have to see whether there is a federal nexus, and whether the there were federal officials who are in those materials who may have had a role in it. It’s too speculative right now to say that.”
The lawmakers would like Adams to reconsider, and likely will appeal to him again.
“It is our hope that the City will reevaluate this decision and uncover what the Giuliani Administration knew about the toxins at Ground Zero when they were promising New Yorkers the air was safe to breathe,” they said in their statement.
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