National Security Officials Issue Declaration Disputing National Emergency

A bipartisan group of 60 former national security officials issued a joint declaration on February 25, 2019, stating there is no “factual basis for the declaration of a national emergency” that would justify President Trump’s presidential proclamation to redirect funding for a border wall in defiance of Congressional wishes.

The declaration was placed in the Congressional Record Monday, a day before the House of Representatives is preparing to vote on a resolution to block President Trump’s proclamation. The experts worked on the declaration with the Yale Law School Rule of Law Clinic, and the document will also be filed in court cases now underway across the country challenging the legality of the presidential proclamation.

“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 joint declaration states.

The bipartisan group involved in the declaration spans a wide range of experts from government and national security agencies, including: five former Cabinet members; two former National Security Advisors and two Deputy National Security Advisors; multiple Senior Intelligence Officials and deputy cabinet members; and experts from multiple government agencies on drug trafficking, human trafficking, counterterrorism, as well as former U.S. Ambassadors to Latin American countries.

The list of 60 signatories includes Madeline Albright (Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton), Chuck Hagel (former Republican Senator from Nebraska who served as Secretary of Defense under President Barack Obama), Leon E. Panetta (CIA director and Secretary of Defense under President Obama), Eliot A. Cohen (State Department counselor under President George W. Bush); Thomas R. Pickering (U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George H.W. Bush), Susan Rice (President Obama’s national security advisor), John B. Bellinger III (Legal Adviser to the National Security Council and the U.S. Department of State under President George W. Bush), and a wide range of other officials who served under both Democratic and Republican presidents. Signatories continue to be added. 

The joint declaration argues that the national emergency declared on February 15, 2019 is unprecedented in that it seeks to address a situation that has been “enduring,” rather than one that arose suddenly. The declaration also notes that the situation at the border has improved over time rather than deteriorated, according to readily available national statistics. Specifically, the declaration states that apprehensions of illegal immigrant’s crossing at the border are at near 40-year lows. Further, the experts argue that there is no documented terrorist or national security emergency at the border; no emergency related to violent crime; and no human or drug trafficking emergency that remotely can be addressed by a wall at the southern border. They also write that redirecting funds for the claimed emergency will undermine U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.

“The President’s actions are at odds with the overwhelming evidence in the public record, including the administration’s own data and estimates,” the declarants argue. “We have lived and worked through national emergencies, and we support the President’s power to mobilize the Executive Branch to respond quickly in genuine national emergencies. But 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 Yale Law School Rule of Law Clinic focuses on maintaining U.S. rule of law and human rights commitments in four areas: national security, antidiscrimination, climate change, and democracy promotion. The clinic has filed amicus briefs previously on behalf of former national security officials in challenges to the misuse of executive power, including the President’s travel ban, where courts have relied heavily on these filings. The Clinic has also worked on issues related to the Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Agreement, redistricting and voting rights, the U.S. Census, transgender military service, and discrimination against Muslim groups.

Last week, the Rule of Law Clinic and the NAACP won a major ruling in a federal challenge to Connecticut’s practice known as “prison gerrymandering”, the first lawsuit in the nation to take on the practice. And last month, a federal court issued a decision in a separate suit allowing the Rule of Law Clinic and the NAACP to proceed with a lawsuit challenging the government’s inadequate preparations for the 2020 Census.