MANHATTAN (CN) — Breaking his silence on the “deeply troubling revelations” of the Department of Homeland Security’s admissions of false statements in court, a federal judge signaled on Wednesday that he will hold the government’s feet to the fire about its now-abandoned plan to exclude New Yorkers from expedited traveler programs.
“The court finds that a limited inquiry is appropriate now, if only to aid the court in deciding later whether and to what extent a more detailed inquiry is warranted,” U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman wrote in a 6-page ruling, ordering the government to respond to a list of questions by Aug. 12.
The judge made his inquiry in a lawsuit filed by New York State Attorney General Letitia James to block the Trump administration from excluding Empire State applicants from the Trusted Travelers Program, which allows participants to breeze through screening at airports and other border crossings.
Until last week, the Trump administration had justified the exclusion by claiming the state had uniquely burdensome sanctuary policies preventing cooperation with federal authorities, but attorneys renounced that position in a surprising filing on July 23.
“DHS advised this office that those statements and representations are inaccurate in some instances and give the wrong impression in others,” Audrey Strauss, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, wrote in last week’s memo.
Giving some examples of “inaccurate or misleading” statements, government attorneys noted that Customs and Border Protection’s director of the program claimed that New York’s so-called Green Light Law uniquely kept the government in the dark about drivers.
But several states and the District of Columbia provide only limited access to driver’s license information, shielding certain information about criminal histories from the federal government.
“Nevertheless, CBP has continued to accept, vet, and, where appropriate, approve TTP applications from these states and territories,” the government conceded.
Reinstating New York to the program hours before these admissions, the government asked to quietly dismiss the case as moot.
“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,” Justice Department attorneys wrote in two memos apologizing for the gaffes.
Not inclined to simply forgive and forget, Judge Furman – who grappled with allegations of perjury by government officials before in the census litigation – ordered further inquiry.
As the government’s walk-back stands, Furman found, the Trump administration did not “fully ‘correct the record,’ as it conspicuously proffers only a few examples of inaccurate and misleading statements and does not even purport to provide an exhaustive list.”
“For the sake of ensuring an accurate record and to help the court in deciding how to proceed down the line, therefore, it is necessary for defendants to make a comprehensive record of any and all ‘inaccurate’ or ‘misleading’ statements in their prior submissions,” Furman wrote in today’s order.
New York Attorney General Letitia James and the New York Civil Liberties Union have announced plans to seek attorneys’ fees and sanctions against the government over the episode.
Furman warned that his inquiry could outlast the lawsuit that precipitated it.
“It is important to note that even if defendants are correct and these cases must be dismissed as moot, the court would retain jurisdiction to pursue such an inquiry and take appropriate action,” he wrote in a footnote, next to citations of cases involving sanctions.
One of those cases was the census litigation in his court.
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