It’s been a big week for Trump’s politicization of the Department of Justice. Days after the president announced that the DOJ would establish a joint-operation center to “investigate violent left-wing civil unrest,” the White House published a memo announcing a review process for federal funding that would limit federal funding to “anarchist jurisdictions.”
“My Administration will do everything in its power to prevent weak mayors and lawless cities from taking Federal dollars while they let anarchists harm people, burn buildings, and ruin lives and businesses,” Trump tweeted. “We’re putting them on notice today.”
The process for the review will involve Attorney General William Barr working with Acting Department of Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolfe and director of the Office of Management and Budget Russ Vought to determine which cities check the official boxes for anarchy. (Borges would be jealous of such an absurd effort of bureaucracy.) Among the factors that the task force will consider are “whether a jurisdiction forbids the police force from intervening to restore order amid widespread or sustained violence or destruction”; “whether a jurisdiction unreasonably refuses to accept offers of law enforcement assistance from the Federal Government”; and “whether a jurisdiction disempowers or defunds police departments.” Among the cities being considered in the review are Seattle, Portland, New York, and Washington, D.C.
The president’s threat to defund Democratic cities if they defund the police is extremely unlikely to hold up in the courts. “This is a campaign document,” a former OMB official told the Washington Post. “Any actual restriction on funding in court will immediately be sued and almost certainly struck down.” And as the New York Times’ Charlie Savage noted, the “White House didn’t even bother to try to cite a legal basis” in the cities-drop-dead message.
Still, the escalation of the Trump’s law-and-order campaign push managed to invoke anger in city and state leaders targeted by the memo. “This has nothing to do with ‘law and order,’” said a spokesperson for New York City mayor Bill de Blasio. “This is a racist campaign stunt out of the Oval Office to attack millions of people of color.”
“It’s cheap, it’s political, it’s gratuitous, and it’s illegal,” New York governor Andrew Cuomo said, adding that the president “better have an army if he thinks he’s going to walk down the street in New York.”