Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody appearing at FDLE headquarters in Tampa on July 18, 2023 (Photo credit: Mitch Perry)
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody doubled down Tuesday, criticizing California Gov. Gavin Newsom for asking that the U.S. Department of Justice open a criminal investigation into recent migrant flights to Sacramento. Those flights were organized by Florida officials but were denounced by the White House as “dangerous and unacceptable.”
In a press conference Tuesday in Tampa, Moody, who has supported Gov. Ron DeSantis in all of his moves to address illegal immigration, is defending the flights from early last month and believes it is completely inappropriate for the federal agency to investigate.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has not announced whether they will make any investigation into the flights organized by Florida that arrived in Sacramento, the state capital of California. A DOJ official said Tuesday that they would not comment on this story.
Three dozen Latin American migrants were sent from Texas to Sacramento on charter flights that DeSantis and the Florida Department of Emergency Management took credit for in early June. The Florida governor defended the flights that were paid for by Florida taxpayers, saying that they were part of a “Voluntary Relocation” program.
The flights angered Gov. Newsom, who called DeSantis “a small, pathetic man” at the time. And it led Newsom, along with California Attorney General Rob Bonta and Bexar County Texas Sheriff Javier Salazar, to pen a letter to United States Attorney General Merrick Garland on July 6 calling on him to investigate the flights organized by Florida officials, writing that “according to news reports, recruiters deceived migrants into taking flights to these particular locations based on promises of jobs and shelter.”
Moody responded aggressively to that request in her own letter on July 13 that she sent to Garland, urging him not to investigate and calling the request a “political stunt, not a legal request.” And while appearing at the Tuesday press conference to discuss a new cybersecurity unit to combat online crime, she continued that criticism when asked about it by a Phoenix reporter.
“I want to put this into perspective – you have a [California] governor and an attorney general of a state – while other states, other municipalities, other jurisdictions have been doing the exact same thing in terms of assisting and transporting folks that have come into our country asking the Department of Justice with no legal basis, no citation to a federal statute that’s been violated, no citation to any law, nothing, asking the DOJ to investigate another state and a governor,” Moody said.
Moody was referring to the fact that while DeSantis has now sent migrants to California last month and nearly 50 Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts last year, there have been both Republican and Democratic governors and mayors who have similarly transported migrants from their communities to places like New York City and Chicago over the past year, saying that they did not have the resources to properly care for them, with those actions not spurring any federal investigations.
Moody then went on to question whether Garland and Democratic President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice could conduct a fair investigation of Florida, saying that there are already “doubts of impartiality that exists right now in this country.”
The Florida Attorney General was more explicit in her letter from last week, writing that there were doubts about the sincerity of Garland’s previous comments that political or other improper considerations must play no role in any investigation or prosecutorial decisions.
“As you know, many doubt the sincerity of your above statement given the Department of Justice’s treatment of the former President and the plea deal offered to the current President’s son,” she wrote, a reference to conservative criticism that Hunter Biden received favorable treatment from federal prosecutors after agreeing to plead guilty to charges that he violated federal tax and gun laws.
Moody also said Tuesday that if the Department of Justice opts to engage in such a “political” investigation, her office will punch back.
“Florida has fought this administration at every turn on some of the very dangerous policies and implementation of those policies and we’ve had success,” she said, adding that she has lots of legal experience that she’s ready to utilize.
“Not just as a private lawyer, but as a federal prosecutor myself, and you have to have people that will not just stand by and say, ‘oh, nobody’s going to think anything of that. Just let them say what they’re going to say. Just let them puff politically.’ But what happened was they started investigating – they even sent people here to Florida. You think that governor and that attorney general sent people anywhere else besides the state of Florida? You think they sent them to New York state? You have been using state resources to come into our state and accuse us – some politically driven investigation – so no, I’m not going to sit back and let that happen and not point out that everyone can see that that was a political stunt, not a legal request.”
Moody’s office has had some legal victories over the Biden administration over the past two-and-a-half years, including a ruling last month by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals maintaining a preliminary injunction blocking the Biden administration’s plan for allowing the release of undocumented immigrants into the country because of issues such as overcrowding at detention facilities.
Following the uproar over the migrant flights to Sacramento, the Florida Division of Emergency Management released a video showing migrant signing release waivers and appearing to have traveled willingly. But a spokesperson for a Sacramento-based nonprofit said that the migrants were promised jobs and other “free support.” California officials say that they are conducting their own investigation.
A request for comment from California Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office was not immediately returned.
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