WASHINGTON ― South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is using “a private donation” to pay for her deployment of state National Guard troops to Texas, in essence turning them into a mercenary force against migrants at the southern border.
“The border is a national security crisis that requires the kind of sustained response only the National Guard can provide,” the Republican governor said on the eve of former President Donald Trump’s visit to the Mexican border at Weslaco at the invitation of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R). “My message to Texas is this: Help is on the way.”
It’s unclear under what legal authority Noem, a possible 2024 Republican presidential candidate, is accepting the money or whether she has the authority to send National Guard troops to another state for this purpose.
Noem’s office did not respond to HuffPost queries on the topic, but it did disclose that the money is coming from the Willis and Reba Johnson Foundation.
Willis Johnson is a Tennessee billionaire and longtime donor to Republican candidates and causes.
Legal experts wondered whether her actions are lawful.
“It is exceedingly odd that the deployment of the National Guard would be paid for by a ‘private donation,’” said J. Michael Luttig, a retired federal appellate court judge. “In many contexts, absent statutory authorization of such, this would be an illegal supplementation of a federally budgeted activity.”
Many Republicans have long used illegal immigration from Mexico as a political weapon. Trump began his 2016 presidential run by casting Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers and promising that he would force Mexico to pay for a massive border wall.
But after winning election, Trump never asked Mexican leaders to pay for the wall. And after failing to get congressional funding for it even while Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, Trump instead raided billions of dollars from the U.S. military’s construction budget ― money that had been slated for such things as new daycare centers and housing on military bases.
Since Democrat Joe Biden entered the White House in January, Trump and other Republicans have claimed that increased numbers of migrants coming across the border constitutes a “crisis,” and Noem and other Republicans considering running for the presidential nomination in 2024 have made it a priority issue.
Abbott this month began soliciting donations to continue building Trump’s border fence after Biden halted the work. Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, also a Republican, asked other governors for help guarding the border and arresting crossers under the existing Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which is typically used for things like flooding and tornadoes.
Stephen Vladeck, a national security law expert at the University of Texas law school, said what concerns him in this situation is the same thing that worried him last summer, when Republican governors sent National Guard troops at Trump’s request to quell occasionally destructive protests in Washington, D.C., creating “the specter of red state and blue state armies.”
Fred Wellman, a retired Army helicopter pilot with 22 years of service who now works with the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, said Noem is simply helping her political career on the backs of her state’s National Guard.
“Kristi Noem is using National Guard troops like mercenaries for her personal political ambitions and some authoritarian fantasy of a personal military,” Wellman said. “The whole thing is, if not illegal, incredibly inappropriate. Our kids don’t join the National Guard to go on useless missions to make Republican governors look tough. This should be stopped by the Army leadership immediately.”
Trump, despite a record two impeachments, with the second one because of his attempt to overthrow democracy to hang on to power, has been hinting he will again run for the presidency.
Trump spent weeks attacking the legitimacy of the Nov. 3 election after he had lost, starting his lies in the predawn hours of Nov. 4 with claims that he had really won in a “landslide” and that it was being “stolen” from him. Those falsehoods continued through a long string of failed lawsuits challenging the results in a handful of states. After the Electoral College finally voted on Dec. 14, making Biden’s win official, Trump began urging his followers to come to Washington on Jan. 6 to intimidate his own vice president and members of Congress into overturning the election results and installing Trump as president for another term anyway. The mob he incited attempted to do just that as it stormed the U.S. Capitol. His supporters even chanted “Hang Mike Pence” after Pence refused to comply with Trump’s demands.
A police officer died after being assaulted during the insurrection, and two others took their own lives soon afterward. A rioter was shot by police inside the building, and three other people died during the assault on the Capitol.