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Justice Department deems New York City, Portland and Seattle 'anarchist jurisdictions'

Trump ordered a review of federal funding to locales where violence has occurred, and he has made ridicule of those cities a regular feature of campaign appearances.
Image: William Barr
Attorney General William Barr gives the keynote address to the Center for Strategic and International Studies China Initiative Conference in Washington on Feb. 6.Cliff Owen / AP file

The Justice Department released a list of cities Monday that it has deemed "anarchist jurisdictions" under President Donald Trump's instructions this month to review federal funding for local governments in places where violence or vandalism has occurred during protests.

That memo directed Attorney General William Barr, in consultation with Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, to identify jurisdictions "that have permitted violence and the destruction of property to persist and have refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract these criminal activities (anarchist jurisdictions)."

On Monday, the Justice Department labeled New York City, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle as such areas. It said it was still working to identify other jurisdictions that meet the criteria outlined in Trump's memo. The president has made ridicule of those cities a regular feature of his campaign appearances, and he has mocked their top officials for their responses to the violence that has taken place during the protests.

Barr said in a statement accompanying the announcement: "We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance. It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens."

As part of its rationale for labeling the cities, the Justice Department cited city councils' voting to cut police funding, the refusal to prosecute protesters on charges like disorderly conduct and unlawful assembly, the rejection of federal intervention, and injuries suffered by law enforcement officials during violent outbursts.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a joint statement calling the administration's move "thoroughly political and unconstitutional," adding that "the president is playing cheap political games with congressionally directed funds."

"Our cities are bringing communities together; our cities are pushing forward after fighting back a pandemic and facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, all despite recklessness and partisanship from the White House," the mayors said. "What the Trump administration is engaging in now is more of what we've seen all along: shirking responsibility and placing blame elsewhere to cover its failure."

New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement Monday that Trump is "using the last few months of his presidency to sow more chaos, more hatred, and more fear," and she pledged to defeat the administration in court over any such withholding of funding to the city and the state.

"This designation is nothing more than a pathetic attempt to scare Americans into voting for a commander-in-chief who is actually incapable of commanding our nation," she said, adding that Trump "should be prepared to defend this illegal order in court, which hypocritically lays the groundwork to defund New York and the very types of law enforcement President Trump pretends to care about."

Democratic mayors and governors this month bashed Trump over his latest effort aimed at what he calls "Democrat-run" cities and states. They said that it was illegal for the executive branch to unilaterally withhold funding from their jurisdictions and that Trump was merely seeking another distraction from the U.S. coronavirus death toll, which has topped 200,000.

"It is another attempt to kill New York City," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters during a late-night conference call this month, adding that Trump "better have an army if he thinks he's going to walk down the streets in New York."

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee called Trump's efforts "the latest baseless, petty and divisive move by President Trump to distract from his abject failure to protect Americans from COVID-19."

"With more than 185,000 lives lost on his watch, we won't forget," he said. "The president cannot and will not defund us. He is not a dictator and laws still apply to him."

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At the time, a White House official said the effort was aimed at withholding grant money from jurisdictions the administration deemed to be "anarchist."

"We're not going to keep providing those funds from the federal level if they're not using them," the official said.