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

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during the daily media briefing at the Office of the Governor of the State of New York on June 12, 2020 in New York City.

Jeenah Moon | Getty Images

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. 

“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 Friday.

Cuomo called on U.S. Attorney General William Barr to launch an investigation. He 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 delivers at New York borders for six months, costing the Port Authority more money to run the airports. He said the ban 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 request for comment.

On Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security said it would lift its ban of the program, which allows for quicker entry at airports for U.S. citizens returning to the country, after the state agreed to share DMV records with U.S. immigration agencies for people applying for TSA Precheck and other Trusted Traveler program.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York told U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman in a letter Thursday 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.

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, allow air travelers re-enter the U.S. faster, and also another program dedicated to commercial truck drivers crossing the border back into the U.S. 

The DHS “made a startling revelation yesterday afternoon. New York state wasn’t the only state to have a Green Light law, and as there were other states that also had the Green Light law, there was nothing unique about New York to justify their punitive action against New York,” Cuomo said at a press briefing. 

CNBC’s Amanda Macias and Leslie Josephs contributed to this article.

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

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