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Abbott Jumped Gun on Terror Suspect Arrest

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott discussed details about a terror suspect arrested in Texas Thursday while the case was still sealed, but a federal prosecutor downplayed the impact.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) speak at a press conference in the Capitol about Sen. Cruz’s Terrorist Refugee Infiltration Prevention Act of 2015 (S. 2302), in Washington, D.C., Dec. 8, 2015.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

After Texas Gov. Greg Abbott released details on Thursday about the arrest of a terror suspect in Texas, federal prosecutors in Houston quickly moved to unseal the charges in the case and hastily put together a statement of their own.

But Abbott's spokesman said Friday the governor did not know that information in the case was still secret when his office commented on the arrest.

Reuters news service, quoting three unidentified sources, reported Friday that the governor and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued statements prematurely, including information from the unsealed indictment, jeopardizing investigators who were still questioning witnesses in the case. 

But Abbott spokesman Jon Wittman said information contained in the governor's evening statement was drawn from a briefing by the Texas Department of Public Safety about the arrest of Omar Jaraj Saeed Al Hardan, an Iraqi refugee indicted on three counts of lying to federal officials about his connection to ISIS.

“However, the governor's office was not informed that any information was under seal,” Wittman said. “After the arrest, a reporter contacted the governor's office, stated details about the case, and asked for comment on the arrest. Unaware that the information was sealed, the governor's office provided a comment in response to the reporters inquiry.”

A spokesman for Patrick said "the lieutenant governor's office did not issue any public statements about the arrests or investigation until they had been widely reported in both Houston and Sacramento, California. To suggest otherwise is ridiculous."

The federal prosecutor in charge of the case said he was "not going to answer" questions about whether Abbott or Patrick jumbled up the investigation, but he downplayed the significance of the Reuters report.

“When we file an indictment under seal, it means generally that the investigation is completed,“ said Ken Magidson, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, whose office is prosecuting Al Hardan on charges he lied about his connection and support for the Islamic State to immigration authorities. 

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Courts Criminal justice Immigration Politics Dan Patrick Greg Abbott