ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo alleged that top Department of Homeland Security officials Chad Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli could be subject to criminal charges for their decision to block New Yorkers from enrolling in expedited border crossing programs.
He also implied that the decision might be responsible for exacerbating the outbreak of Covid-19 in New York.
“I believe that Mr. Wolf and Mr. Cuccinelli have criminal liability,” the governor said at a briefing on Friday. “I believe there is civil liability. There was a clear abuse of power for political purposes.”
The Trump administration blocked New Yorkers from participating in these programs in February, blaming the state’s new law letting undocumented immigrants obtain driver’s licenses. That law prohibited state DMVs from sharing driving records with federal agencies involved in immigration enforcement, which those agencies said made it impossible to conduct proper background checks.
On Thursday, DHS reversed course and said that some changes to the law made in April were good enough to let New Yorkers start enrolling in the programs again. It emerged later in the day that Justice Department officials had decided to drop their defense of a suit challenging the restriction after realizing the DHS incorrectly claimed the state’s information-sharing restrictions were unique.
That, Cuomo said, was clear proof that federal officials had been playing politics all along — and it came at the worst possible time.
“Without the trusted traveler program, you know what happened? The lines at the airports backed up. You know when the lines at the airport backed up? February and March … That’s when the Covid cases were coming from Europe,” Cuomo said. “And they were playing their games and they backed up the lines of people waiting to get through customs and border controls.”
Cuomo called on both Attorney General William Barr and Congress to launch investigations into DHS’s actions.
He also said the state would explore taking legal actions itself: “I believe that there are civil damages that New York state is owed and we will be pursuing possible claims for that.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer joined Cuomo’s call for a probe later on Friday. He wrote to DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari asking for an investigation into the department’s “false claim.”
“We do not have a full accounting of why and how false statements were made by DHS officials to the Justice Department, the public, and the court,” he wrote. “Lying to a federal court is a very serious matter and there must be accountability for the persons involved.”
Schumer specified the investigation should determine if DHS or Trump administration officials ordered or encouraged false statements to be made to the Justice Department or the court and whether there are electronic records of “discussions of the false narrative.”