RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Sixteen states are suing the president of the United States. The move was expected after President Trump declared a national emergency as an end run around Congress to get the money he wants to build a border wall. California is leading this suit. That state's attorney general, Xavier Becerra, told MSNBC the president's decision is unconstitutional.
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XAVIER BECERRA: The president admitted that there's not a basis for the declaration. He admitted there's no crisis at the border. And he's now trying to rob funds that were allocated by Congress legally to the various states and the people of our state.
MARTIN: New Jersey also joined the lawsuit, and we are joined now by the attorney general of New Jersey, Gurbir Grewal. He's in our studio at member station WBGO in Newark.
Thanks so much for being with us this morning.
GURBIR GREWAL: Good morning, Rachel. Pleasure to be here.
MARTIN: How is New Jersey affected by the president's decision to declare a national emergency?
GREWAL: Well, we're affected in a number of ways, Rachel. But I think the key point is what General Becerra just said, is that there is no national emergency here. The only emergency here is a president that fails to adhere to the rule of law. And his actions and the administration's actions are directly affecting New Jersey because it's diverting funds, potentially, from military construction, from drug interdiction, from law enforcement purposes to pretty much a vanity project in this wall. And that affects New Jersey safety in innumerable ways.
MARTIN: You mentioned the military construction projects that the White House has said that they will pull money from - and drug interdiction. But the administration hasn't named specific programs, though. So are you just projecting that New Jersey could be directly affected?
GREWAL: Well, you know, we have a number of military bases here in New Jersey. We have a real opioid crisis in New Jersey, where thousands of people are dying yearly from dangerous drugs. And any threat to take away funding from either of those two areas affects New Jersey, and we hope to find answers through this litigation as to where exactly the administration is seeking to go to raid those funds. And again, it undermines public safety here in New Jersey. And the threat to take Treasury funds, forfeiture funds, which could be used for law enforcement purposes, that also affects New Jersey. And so we hope to find those answers through the course of this litigation.
MARTIN: You say part of the argument - or a big part of the argument - is that this does not meet the standard for a national emergency. But it's my understanding that that's pretty broad. There is no hard and fast definition of what a president can declare a national emergency for.
GREWAL: That's right. But there has to be an underlying emergency. Prior emergencies - after 9/11, President Bush declared an emergency and diverted funds for military goals - there were clear threats at that point in time. There are absolutely no clear threats here. There is no crisis at the border. There is no national emergency. Multiple...
MARTIN: Although even Democrats agree there's a humanitarian crisis at the border.
GREWAL: There certainly is a humanitarian crisis. But the stated goals - multiple federal agencies have rejected claims that a wall will help keep out drugs and terrorism. There's no crisis at the border in that regard. The president admitted on Friday that he didn't need to do this. He didn't need to issue a declaration. He didn't need a national emergency. And I think that's strong proof that this crisis is completely manufactured.
MARTIN: We actually do have that clip of tape from the president speaking in the Rose Garden. Let's play that.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I want to do it faster. I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn't need to do this, but I'd rather do it much faster.
MARTIN: So that's what you're seizing on in this lawsuit, the fact that the president seems to be undermining his own argument there about the urgency of this emergency.
Let me ask about the politics of this. There are 16 states total in the suit. All but one, Maryland, have Democratic governors; most have Democrat-controlled legislatures. Your office, the California attorneys general's office and several other states have already filed other lawsuits against the administration or have launched investigations into the Trump administration. How do you combat the criticism from non-Democrats that this is just a political move?
GREWAL: Well, you know, I didn't come to this office with a political agenda. I didn't run for office. I'm one of the few attorneys general that are appointed and confirmed by the Senate. And prior to coming here, I served both as a federal prosecutor in a Republican administration, as a federal prosecutor in a Democratic administration. I was appointed by a Republican governor to be a county prosecutor. So I don't come to this with a political agenda.
When we take action against the administration, we ask ourselves two questions - is what they're doing unlawful? - and, two, does it affect New Jersey? And there's plenty of times where we've answered yes to both those questions, and there are times when we've answered no and not joined actions against the administration. But here, you know, it undermines directly, as I mentioned before, public safety in New Jersey. But even more importantly, New Jersey, we have a diverse population and a large immigrant community, both legal and unauthorized folks.
The other point that I didn't make earlier is that we're trying build bridges here in New Jersey, not walls. And we're trying to get people out of the shadows to come report crimes because I also serve as the chief law enforcement officer. And when we have a culture of fear that's being stoked by the administration with the rhetoric that's going along with the wall, that undermines public safety as well.
MARTIN: New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, thank you so much.
GREWAL: My pleasure. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.