More than 50 former top national security officials released an open letter on Monday arguing that there is “no factual basis” to support President Trump’s use of a national emergency to reappropriate government funds to build a wall on the US-Mexico border.
The letter comes as the House plans to vote on a resolution to block Trump’s emergency declaration on February 15, which he issued after Congress did not allocate the $5.7 billion he demanded for the wall’s construction.
In the 11-page statement, the former officials demand that the White House provide evidence of a crisis in which the use of emergency powers is appropriate. Many of the most recognizable names last worked in Barack Obama’s administration, including former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power, and CIA Director John Brennan. But the 58 signers include officials who served under George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton as well.
“Under no plausible assessment of the evidence is there a national emergency today that entitles the president to tap into funds appropriated for other purposes to build a wall at the southern border,” the officials wrote.
The letter calls on Trump to provide that evidence using “his agencies’ own official data, documents and statements,” and includes statistics from the Department of Homeland Security that dispute Trump’s claim that a crisis is occurring at the southern border. The writers argue that more terrorists enter the US by air than across the border and say that only six terrorists were detected at the southern border between October 2017 and March 2018.
A domestic emergency will have international repercussions, the writers argue. Reallocating funds toward a wall “will undermine U.S. national security and foreign policy interests,” according to the statement, taking money away from military hospitals, roads, and housing. They argue “a wall is unnecessary to support the use of the armed forces,” at a time when staffing of Border Patrol agents is at a record high and funding for the other projects is at near-record lows.
The emergency move also “further eroded [Trump’s] credibility with foreign leaders, both friend and foe,” reads the letter, signed by many State Department diplomats; it cites the importance of a friendship with Mexico in regional efforts, such as Venezuela’s current unrest.
The long-term effects of a national emergency declaration are hard to tell right now — national emergencies were declared during the administrations in which the letter’s signatories served, but conditions were different. Now it’s clear to these former officials that President Trump is willing to risk security efforts and US priorities in order to reach his own goals. As Vox’s Dara Lind writes:
What really distinguishes this emergency declaration from others isn’t necessarily the factual question of what counts as a national emergency. It’s the fact that Trump telegraphed what he was going to do for weeks — while Congress was negotiating with him and with itself over government funding. Trump was absent from the negotiations that produced this funding bill. He’d already made it clear that if he didn’t get what he wanted from Congress, he’d simply get it another way.
Lawsuits against the national emergency declaration have already been filed in the District of Columbia, California, and Texas, according to the Post. The officials’ letter will be used in these cases to support plaintiffs’ arguments against the Trump administration.
Trump has promised to veto any House measure against the emergency and projected he will win all lawsuits in the Supreme Court.
Read the full letter below.