Health and Science

New York Gov. Cuomo accuses Trump administration officials of 'possible criminal liability' in Trusted Traveler lawsuit

Key Points
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo threatened to sue the Trump administration for damages over banning state residents from the Department of Homeland Security's Trusted Traveler Program, saying the agency "abused government resources to advance political purposes."
  • Cuomo accused two DHS officials, acting Secretary Chad Wolf and acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, of potential criminal liability. 
  • On Thursday, DHS said it would lift its ban on New Yorkers from participating in the program, which allows for quicker entry at airports for U.S. citizens returning to the country.
  • Later in the day, the U.S. Attorney's Office told U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in a letter that DHS was dropping its opposition to New York's previously announced lawsuit over the program, admitting the agency had made "inaccurate or misleading" statements. 
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Cuomo accuses Trump administration officials of 'possible criminal liability' in Trusted Traveler lawsuit

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday threatened to sue the Trump administration for damages over banning state residents from the Department of Homeland Security's Trusted Traveler Program, saying the agency "abused government resources to advance political purposes."

Cuomo accused two DHS officials, acting Secretary Chad Wolf and acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli, of potential criminal liability. 

"I believe Mr. Wolf and Mr. Cuccinelli have possible criminal liability. I believe there is civil liability. It was a clear abuse of government power for political purposes," he said at a press conference in Albany.

On Thursday, DHS said it would lift its ban on New Yorkers from participating in the program, which allows for quicker entry at airports for U.S. citizens returning to the country. Cuomo said DHS told the state around 2 p.m. Thursday that it lifted the ban after New York agreed to share with U.S. immigration agencies the DMV records of people applying for TSA Precheck and other Trusted Traveler programs.

Later in the day, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York told U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in a letter that DHS was dropping its opposition to New York's previously announced lawsuit over the program, admitting the agency had made "inaccurate or misleading" statements. 

"Defendants 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," said Audrey Strauss, the acting United States attorney in Manhattan.

Cuomo told reporters at a press briefing Friday the DHS "made a startling revelation yesterday afternoon" that New York state isn't the only state to have a Green Light law. 

"It is impossible that the Department of Homeland Security just figured that out yesterday afternoon," Cuomo said, adding that it is widely known. "What happened yesterday is they got caught."

He called on U.S. Attorney General William Barr to launch an investigation and said the state will also seek possible civil damages from the DHS. 

"The Department of Justice should do an investigation ... I think the Congress should investigate it because they lied and they did a lot of damage," Cuomo said.

He said the state is trying to quantify the monetary damages. The ban backed up trucking and air cargo deliveries at New York borders for six months, costing the Port Authority more money to run the airports, he said. It also packed people into long lines waiting to be screened at airports at a crucial time when Covid-19 was just starting to circulate in the U.S. "How do you quantify that?" he asked.

The DHS and Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to CNBC's requests for comment.

The U.S. offers several so-called trusted traveler programs that allow for quicker entry for U.S. citizens returning to the country. They include Global Entry, which for a $100 fee and a background check, allows air travelers to reenter the U.S. faster, and a program dedicated to commercial truck drivers crossing the border back into the U.S. 

CNBC's Amanda Macias, Dan Mangan and Leslie Josephs contributed to this article.

This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates.