I saw this tweet the instant it was posted and laughed at how it reminds me of the famous July 25th call between Trump and Zelensky. He doesn’t explicitly say, “If you want this public benefit from me, I need a personal benefit from you,” but by linking the two in the same communication it’s clear in context what he’s proposing.
I’m seeing Governor Cuomo today at The White House. He must understand that National Security far exceeds politics. New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harrassment, start cleaning itself up, and lowering taxes. Build relationships, but don’t bring Fredo!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 13, 2020
He met Cuomo today to discuss the federal Global Entry program for “trusted travelers” at airports. A week ago DHS announced that New Yorkers would be excluded from that program due to the state’s passage of a “Green Light Law.” The Green Light Law is designed to protect illegal immigrants, who are allowed to apply for driver’s licenses in New York. It keeps the feds from being able to access the state’s DMV database, which could be used by ICE to target illegals for deportation, without a court order. If we can’t see the database then you can’t be part of Global Entry, countered DHS. Trump and Cuomo got together today in Washington to see if some sort of compromise might be worked out.
So far, so good. It’s the bit in the tweet about “unnecessary lawsuits & harrassment” (or “harassment”) that’s noteworthy. Various lawsuits have been filed by New York against the Trump administration but that’s par for the course with a Democratic state and a Republican administration or vice versa. The lawsuits in New York that have made headlines are the ones the state has filed against Trump personally. There are a lot of them, from the successful effort to shut down his foundation (which resulted in a $2 million payment to various charities by the president) to an investigation of the Trump Organization’s finances to the coming Supreme Court battle over whether the Manhattan D.A. can subpoena Trump’s tax returns from his accountants.
“Harassment” is clearly a reference to those personal lawsuits. Public lawsuits by a state against the feds are cumbersome but S.O.P. in politics. Trump himself would rarely have reason to get involved in them. If he’s being “harassed,” it’s by the politically motivated investigations into his and his business’s finances.
And so, in context, it looks like he’s saying that if Cuomo wants a deal on Global Entry, making those investigations go away would help oil the gears a bit.
Democrats saw the tweet too and are going nuts about it:
Trump abused his power to coerce Ukraine into announcing investigations for his personal benefit by freezing military aid.
Now, he’s using his powers to coerce states to stop investigations into him and his businesses.
Different corrupt purpose, same corrupt President. https://t.co/4pBqY8gAnI
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) February 13, 2020
Trump is publicly admitting that he is holding Global Entry for New Yorkers hostage in exchange for dropping lawsuits against him and his family’s lawbreaking behavior.
This is corrupt, illegal, and authoritarian.
Hope Collins and Murkowski are proud of their vote. https://t.co/I49Ksj7VAm
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 13, 2020
As we predicted, the president is now expanding his abuse of power to blackmailing U.S. states (threatening millions of people he supposedly works for).
In this case, he’s holding New York state hostage to try to stop investigations into his prior tax fraud. https://t.co/dZKhhVhMZd
— Rep. Val Demings (@RepValDemings) February 13, 2020
Politico notes this passage from House Dems’ brief in the impeachment trial:
“An acquittal would also provide license to President Trump and his successors to use taxpayer dollars for personal political ends … Presidents could also hold hostage federal funds earmarked for States — such as money for natural disasters, highways, and healthcare — unless and until State officials perform personal political favors,” the House wrote in its impeachment trial brief. “Any Congressional appropriation would be an opportunity for a President to solicit a favor for his personal political purposes — or for others to seek to curry favor with him. Such an outcome would be entirely incompatible with our constitutional system of self-government.”
There’s no appropriation at stake this time but access to Global Entry for New Yorkers is obviously a benefit.
Meanwhile, New York’s attorney general chimed in to tell him that Cuomo doesn’t get to make deals about lawsuits:
When you stop violating the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers, we will stand down.
Until then, we have a duty and responsibility to defend the Constitution and the rule of law.
BTW, I file the lawsuits, not the Governor. https://t.co/tsOLeEgiQp
— NY AG James (@NewYorkStateAG) February 13, 2020
In the Ukraine matter, his defense to charges that he’d abused his power was that it’s in the public interest to investigate possible corruption by a former high official like Joe Biden. (Why he wanted a country like Ukraine which he regarded as untrustworthy to carry out that investigation has never been fully explained.) He wasn’t going after Joe because he thought Biden would be his opponent in the election, he insisted, he was going after him in the name of draining the swamp. In this case I’m guessing the defense will be that he was only referring to the lawsuits filed against his administration, not against him or his business — although whether it’d be appropriate for the president to condition a public benefit on a state withdrawing a possibly meritorious lawsuit against his government is itself an open question. That could be defended as also in the public interest, I suppose. Leaning on them to withdraw a personal suit is far more dubious.
He could always go with the old “no quid pro quo” defense and insist that he didn’t mean to imply that Global Entry’s fate in New York is linked to his personal fate in New York courts. The program’s not named in the tweet, is it? Maybe he just happened to be thinking of Cuomo and New York, without regard to the subject of their meeting, and his mind turned to those lawsuits. Or he could do what he did with Ukraine’s military aid and squeeze Cuomo and New Yorkers for as long as possible before finally relenting when the political heat gets too hot. “We readmitted New York to Global Entry in the end, didn’t we? So what’s the problem?”
Maybe he won’t bother offering a defense. He doesn’t really need to. Pelosi’s being as clear as she can be that she’s in no mood to chase new Trump scandals, including the big one right now involving Bill Barr and Roger Stone. Democrats are ready to get back on message policy-wise so he’s free to use public benefits as personal leverage as he deems fit.
Ah well. Here’s something fun that’s impeachment-related — Adam Schiff admitting that Hunter Biden accepting a position at a company he had no business joining maybe wasn’t the best optics.
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) February 13, 2020