The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

White House orders review aimed at blocking federal funding from places administration labels ‘anarchist jurisdictions’

New five-page memo says Portland, Ore.; Seattle; D.C.; and New York City should face particular scrutiny

President Trump speaks during a news briefing Monday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Trump on Wednesday approved a memo that the White House said is intended to begin restricting federal funding from going to certain Democratic-led cities that the administration determines to be “anarchist jurisdictions,” aiming to levy an extraordinary attack on political opponents just months ahead of the 2020 election.

In a five-page memo, the president directs the White House Office of Management and Budget to give guidance to federal agencies on restricting funding to cities that “defund” their police departments. The memo also directs the Justice Department within 14 days to come up with a list of localities that qualify as “anarchist jurisdictions” and post that list publicly. Trump has said there is a wide-ranging Democratic plot to defund police departments, although most prominent Democrats, including presidential nominee Joe Biden, have adamantly rejected this approach.

“My Administration will not allow Federal tax dollars to fund cities that allow themselves to deteriorate into lawless zones,” the president’s memo states. “It is imperative that the Federal Government review the use of Federal funds by jurisdictions that permit anarchy, violence, and destruction in America’s cities.”

During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly promised to restore “law and order” to the United States. Now as president, he is promising the same thing. (Video: The Washington Post)

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The federal government provides funding for cities in a variety of ways. These include transportation projects, housing aid, law enforcement grants and numerous other measures. Even though the money is often approved by Congress, administration officials can attempt to cancel certain projects. The new memo asks about the legal authority for canceling certain projects.

The memo comes as the president seeks to intensify his attacks on Democratic mayors of cities that have faced civil unrest amid protests against police brutality. It specifically calls for a review of federal funding that goes to Portland, Ore.; New York City; Seattle; and D.C. Legal experts said the White House maneuver to restrict funding would almost certainly be met by an immediate challenge in court.

Sam Berger, former senior OMB official during the Obama administration, said that any city that has its funds restricted is likely to sue the Trump administration immediately. “This is a campaign document coming out of the White House,” Berger said. “Any actual restriction on funding in court will immediately be sued and almost certainly struck down.”

In a statement, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) said: “This is a new low, even for this president. He continues to believe that disenfranchising people living in this country to advance his petty grudges is an effective political strategy. The rest of us know it is dangerous, destructive, and divisive.”

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) has faced criticizism by both right- and left-wing activists. (Video: The Washington Post)

White House officials say the restrictions on federal funding are aimed to encourage cities to crack down on violent protesters. OMB Director Russell Vought said in a statement: “We are taking action by exploring all options to ensure Federal resources flowing to lawless cities aren’t being squandered. The lack of law and order surrounding these riots, and response from local leadership, is a dereliction of duty.”

The memo was first reported by the New York Post.