California Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to launch an investigation into flights of migrants flown to Sacramento — which were orchestrated by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — saying he believes it's clear a crime was committed.
"I know one was on the basis of all the interviews and all the facts that are now in evidence," Newsom told Jacob Soboroff of "TODAY" in an exclusive interview airing Thursday morning, adding, "Now we have to prove it."
"Now, who’s ultimately accountable and responsible? I mean, the buck should stop with Ron DeSantis and the games he’s playing," said Newsom, a Democrat. "But it’s the folks on the front lines that were doing the dirty work. And that’s ultimately what we have to determine, is where the culpability lands and resides."
Read more on this story at NBCNews.com and watch the interview on ‘TODAY’ at 7 a.m. ET Thursday.
Newsom's comments escalate a growing battle between two powerful governors from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. Newsom — an increasingly national figure in the Democratic Party who is often discussed as a potential presidential candidate — has gone after DeSantis on issues from guns and abortion to education, Disney and other social issues.
Florida confirmed Tuesday that DeSantis' administration was responsible for the two private planes’ flying groups of migrants to Sacramento, the state capital, without coordination with California. Roughly three dozen migrants arrived on the two flights, which landed Friday and Monday.
Newsom tweeted at DeSantis on Monday, calling him a "small, pathetic man" and suggesting he could face kidnapping charges.
Soboroff asked Newsom whether DeSantis should be concerned that California law enforcement will arrest him when he visits the state for a fundraiser this month. Newsom said that was "hyperbole" but that there was "potential" criminality.
"They’re human beings used as pawns for a guy's political advancement. That's pretty sad and pathetic," Newsom said.
"This is California — fourth- or fifth-largest economy on planet Earth," he continued. "We mean business. And so Ron DeSantis should know that."
A spokesperson for Florida’s Division of Emergency Management said Tuesday that the migrants all went to California voluntarily.
"Through verbal and written consent, these volunteers indicated they wanted to go to California," the statement read.
“As you can see from this video, Florida’s voluntary relocation is precisely that — voluntary,” the statement said, adding that a contractor was present and made sure the migrants made it safely to a third-party nongovernmental organization.
DeSantis has been leaning heavily into immigration in his run for the GOP nomination for president, using it to go after former President Donald Trump.
Last year, DeSantis attracted national attention — and significant criticism — for flying about 50 migrants, most of them Venezuelan, from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, the wealthy liberal vacation spot in Massachusetts, without notice. In February, Florida's Republican-controlled Legislature expanded the program used for the flights.
On Wednesday, he chuckled when NBC News' Gabe Gutierrez asked DeSantis about Newsom's criticisms.
"The sanctuary jurisdictions are part of the reason we have this problem because they have endorsed and agitated for these types of open border policies," DeSantis said in Arizona, where he was making his first trip to the southern border as a presidential candidate.
"They have bragged that they are sanctuary jurisdictions. ... Well, what are these people having to deal with here? I don’t see the sympathy for them," he added.
On Monday, a Texas sheriff said he was recommending that a local district attorney file criminal charges after an investigation into the Martha's Vineyard incident; it wasn't clear who would face those charges.