Gov. Cuomo calls Homeland Security Trusted Traveler action 'political extortion'

NEW YORK (WABC) -- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Charles Schumer are calling for an investigation after the Department of Homeland Security announced Thursday it was lifting the ban on the Trusted Traveler program for New York residents due to "inaccurate and misleading claims" officials from the department made to justify the program.

The February ban was in response to a New York immigration law that prevented the sharing of information to federal law enforcement officers.

"What happened yesterday is they got caught," Cuomo said. "They got caught. That's what happened yesterday."

He called it "political extortion" to use the so-called Green Light law that limits information sharing with federal immigration authorities as justification for the now-abandoned move.

Cuomo said 15 other states have similar laws and accused Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli of violating their oaths of office.

"I believe Mr. Wolf and Mr. Cuccinelli have possible criminal liability and civil liability," Cuomo said.

He called on Attorney General William Barr to investigate, and he asked Congress for a hearing. Cuomo also called for civil damages to be paid to the state.

"The ban on the Trusted Traveler Program hurt New Yorkers," he said. "It hurt our economy, and it was all politics, right from the beginning. You cannot use government for political exploitation. It's only one in a barrage of political abuses that we've endured by this administration, and it has to stop."

Separately, Sen. Schumer is sending a letter to the DHS Inspector General calling for a full investigation. Here is the text of that letter, obtained by ABC News.

The Honorable Joseph V. Cuffari
Inspector General
Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane, SW
Washington, DC. 20528-0305

Dear Mr. Cuffari:

Yesterday, in a filing in U.S. District Court in New York, the Department of Justice was forced to make the extraordinary admission that officials of the Department of Homeland Security had made false statements to the court about the Department's February 2020 decision to bar New Yorkers from the Global Entry program. While it has always been obvious that the DHS action was taken in political retaliation against my state, DHS had maintained - until now - the implausible explanation that New York policies were somehow a threat to national security.

The Justice Department has now confirmed the falsity of that explanation, but what we do not yet know is who is responsible for the false statements to the court and to the public. Lying to a federal court is a very serious matter and there must be accountability for the persons involved. I therefore request that you conduct an immediate investigation and provide answers to the following questions as soon as possible:

1. Which officials within DHS ordered, directed, or encouraged or suggested that the knowingly false statements be made to the court or to the public?
2. To what extent were discussions within DHS of the false narrative conducted via electronic mail or messaging?
3. With which officials outside of DHS did DHS officials discuss the false narrative, including officials at the White House, Department of Justice or others?
4. To what extent were discussions between DHS officials and officials outside the Department conducted via electronic mail or messaging?
5. Did White House officials, up to and including the President, order, direct, encourage or suggest that DHS bar New York from the Global Entry program or use a false narrative to justify that decision?

Given that the Administration's actions in this case involve potential violations of criminal law, I urge you to treat this investigation urgently and report your findings as quickly as possible.

Sincerely,
Charles E. Schumer


The admission came in a filing related to a lawsuit filed by the New York Attorney General's office after the Trump administration barred New Yorkers from programs like Global Entry, meant to speed international travelers through the airport.

RELATED | New York to sue federal government over suspension of Global Entry program for travelers

DHS had previously said the ban was lifted because New York has since amended the Green Light Law to allow for information-sharing of New York DMV records "as necessary for an individual seeking acceptance into a trusted traveler program, or to facilitate vehicle imports and/or exports."

"Defendants (DHS) deeply regret the foregoing inaccurate or misleading statements and apologize to the Court and plaintiffs for the need to make these corrections at this late stage in the litigation," Acting US attorney Audrey Strauss said. "Defendants respectfully request that the Court accept this letter to correct the record, and permit them to withdraw their motions to dismiss and for summary judgment."

However, New York still restricts sharing DMV information with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"We appreciate the information sharing to CBP for the trusted travel program, which enables DHS to move forward and begin once again processing New York residents under the Trusted Travel Program. Nonetheless, local New York law continues to maintain provisions that undermine the security of the American people and purport to criminalize information sharing between law enforcement entities," Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said. "The Green Light Law ultimately undermines the efforts of law enforcement officers, criminalizing their mission to secure the nation and the American people from threats and furthering the risk to their own lives. When jurisdictions like New York fail to cooperate with federal authorities, they operate more like refuges from criminal behavior, not sanctuary havens."

DHS says blocking federal law enforcement officers from accessing DMV records creates a significant threat public safety. They say the data provided by state officials is vital to identify foreign terrorist connections and build criminal cases and identify criminal suspects including gang members, sex offenders, drug smugglers and others.

Thirteen other states and the District of Columbia have Green Light laws, but Cuomo says New York is the only state that was targeted by this administration for retaliation.

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