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Former senior national security officials issue declaration on national emergency

President Trump on Feb. 22 said he would veto a House-introduced resolution to block his national emergency declaration. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Oliver Contreras/The Washington Post)

A bipartisan group of 58 former senior national security officials issued a statement Monday saying that “there is no factual basis” for President Trump’s proclamation of a national emergency to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

The joint statement, whose signatories include former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former defense secretary Chuck Hagel, comes a day before the House is expected to vote on a resolution to block Trump’s Feb. 15 declaration.

Read the letter: Former national security officials dispute Trump’s emergency declaration

The former officials’ statement, which will be entered into the Congressional Record, is intended to support lawsuits and other actions challenging the national emergency proclamation and to force the administration to set forth the legal and factual basis for it.

Republican Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said he supported President Trump’s national emergency declaration to build the wall Feb. 17. (Video: Reuters)

“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 group said.

Albright served under President Bill Clinton, and Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska, served under President Barack Obama.

Also signing were Eliot A. Cohen, State Department counselor under President George W. Bush; Thomas R. Pickering, President George H.W. Bush’s ambassador to the United Nations; John F. Kerry, Obama’s second secretary of state; Susan E. Rice, Obama’s national security adviser; Leon E. Panetta, Obama’s CIA director and defense secretary; as well as former intelligence and security officials who served under Republican and Democratic administrations.

Trump declares national emergency on southern border in bid to build wall

Trump’s national emergency declaration followed a 35-day partial government shutdown, which came after Congress did not approve the $5.7 billion he sought to build a wall.

In announcing his declaration, Trump predicted lawsuits and “possibly . . . a bad ruling, and then we’ll get another bad ruling” before winning at the Supreme Court.

Trump’s actions are also drawing criticism from at least two dozen former Republican congressmen, who have signed an open letter urging passage of a joint resolution to terminate the emergency declaration. The letter argues that Trump is circumventing congressional authority.

The former security officials’ 11-page declaration sets out their argument disputing the factual basis for the president’s emergency.

Among other things, they said, illegal border crossings are at nearly 40-year lows. Undetected unlawful entries at the U.S.-Mexico border decreased from 851,000 to nearly 62,000 between 2006 and 2016, they said, citing Department of Homeland Security statistics.

Contrary to the president’s assertion, there is no documented emergency at the southern border related to terrorism or violent crime, they said, citing administration reports and independent think tank analyses.

When Trump declared national emergency, most detained immigrants were not criminals

Similarly, they state that there is no drug trafficking emergency that can be addressed by a wall along the southern border, noting that “the overwhelming majority of opioids” that enter the United States are brought in through legal ports of entry, citing the Justice Department.

They also argue that redirecting money pursuant to the national emergency declaration “will undermine U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.” And, they assert, “a wall is unnecessary to support the use of the armed forces,” as the administration has said.

Some of the same former officials wrote a joint declaration disputing the factual basis for the president’s order shortly after he took office in January 2017 barring entry to foreign nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The former officials asserted that the order was not based on a bona fide national security assessment but on “a deliberate political decision to discriminate against a religious minority.”

Their views were filed as a joint declaration and later as a friend-of-the court brief in lawsuits challenging the original order and subsequent revisions, and it was cited by almost every federal judge who enjoined the ban. By the time the challenges reached the Supreme Court, the administration had significantly narrowed the ban, which the high court upheld on a 5-to-4 vote.

With respect to the declared national emergency, plaintiffs have filed two cases in the District of Columbia, two in California and one in Texas.