‘The president is not above the law’: Gov. Andrew Cuomo vows to challenge Trump’s DOJ after it labels NYC an ‘anarchist jurisdiction’

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

Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed Monday to sue the Trump administration if President Donald Trump follows through on his threat to withhold federal funding from New York City for supposedly being an “anarchist jurisdiction.”

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

The Democratic governor’s warning came hours after the Department of Justice labeled New York City, along with Portland 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.

“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 Democratic governor 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,” Cuomo 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.

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

New York City Mayor Bill 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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