New York attorney general readies lawsuit after Trump’s DOJ labels NYC ‘anarchist jurisdiction,’ threatening federal funds

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks at a press conference held in LaGuardia Airport’s new Terminal B on June 10, 2020 in New York City.
Scott Heins | Getty Images

New York Attorney General Letitia James warned Monday she is preparing a lawsuit after President Donald Trump’s Justice Department labeled New York City an “anarchist jurisdiction” and threatened to withhold federal grant money.

Trump “is trying to distract the American people from his failures as a leader and is using the last few months of his presidency to sow more chaos, more hatred, and more fear,” James said in a statement. 

“The president should be prepared to defend this illegal order in court, which hypocritically lays the groundwork to defund New York and the very types of law enforcement President Trump pretends to care about.”

Earlier Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo also vowed to challenge the administration in court if it followed through on its threat to cut off funds to NYC.

“The president is not above the law,” Cuomo said during a teleconference with reporters. 

“If they actually do this, we will challenge it legally, and he will lose once again, because we’ve seen this play before,” Cuomo said, referring to the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities.

The warnings came hours after the Department of Justice labeled New York City, along with Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, as jurisdictions that “are Permitting Anarchy, Violence, and Destruction in American Cities.”

Trump earlier this month asked Attorney General William Barr to compile a list of “anarchist jurisdictions” and have the government’s budget chief, Russell Vought, share guidance on blocking or disfavoring some federal grants from those areas.

In a joint statement later Monday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan tore into the DOJ’s moves.

“This is thoroughly political and unconstitutional. The President is playing cheap political games with Congressionally directed funds,” they said. “What the Trump Administration is engaging in now is more of what we’ve seen all along: shirking responsibility and placing blame elsewhere to cover its failure.”

The funds being targeted comprise a large chunk of NYC’s annual budget, which is already under serious strain because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cuomo accused the president of trying to “manipulate and distort government agencies to play politics — which is what the Trump administration has done from day one.”

“Congress appropriates funds with specific legal requirements,” the Democratic governor said. “The president can’t supersede the law and say, ‘I’m going to make those funds basically discretionary funds,’ which is what he would have to do, basically say, ‘I control all the federal funding.’ He doesn’t control federal funding. The federal law controls federal funding, and the federal law is very specific.”

Trump and Barr have loudly criticized the approach some Democrat-run cities have taken toward quelling violence during protests against police brutality and systemic racism. The issue has taken a central role in the 2020 election between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden, with the incumbent declaring himself a champion of “law and order” and Biden blaming Trump for the unrest.  

“When state and local leaders impede their own law enforcement officers and agencies from doing their jobs, it endangers innocent citizens who deserve to be protected, including those who are trying to peacefully assemble and protest,” Barr said in the DOJ’s press release Monday morning.

“We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance,” Barr said. “It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens.”

The Justice Department’s release noted that while reported shootings in New York City were on the rise, City Council cut $1 billion from the police department’s budget for fiscal year 2021.

De Blasio tore into the administration during his own news conference Monday.

“I was out in Elmhurst Queens this morning, I saw peace, tranquility, I saw people going about their business, people excited that it’s the first day of school – I saw anything but anarchy. This is just another one of President Trump’s games,” de Blasio said, NBC News reported.

“It’s insulting to the people of New York City, and his effort to withhold our funding is unconstitutional.”

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