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Gov. Cuomo, Rep. Reed tussle over who's to blame for border debacle

WASHINGTON — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday tried pinning New York's trusted travel debacle on Rep. Tom Reed and one of his Republican colleagues from Long Island.

But Reed, a Corning Republican, was having none of it.

Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, got the tussle started a day earlier when he referenced Reed and Rep. Lee Zeldin in a conference call with reporters.

Discussing the provision of the state's "Green Light law" that bars federal homeland security officers from access to state driving records, Cuccinelli said: "We had been hearing from some of the congressional delegation particularly who wanted to take action, like Tom Reed and Lee Zeldin."

To hear Cuomo tell it, that meant Reed and Zeldin actually suggested shutting off access to trusted traveler programs that their own constituents use.

"(Cuccinelli) says in the conversation at the press conference: 'Well, we spoke to political people in the state of New York, including Congressman Reed and Congressman Zeldin, and they want us to do this,' " Cuomo said at a media event in New York.

But that's not what Reed said, he said.

"It surprised me that now that I have the ability to direct the entire Department of Homeland Security to make a national-impact type of decision with a phone call," Reed said, tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Rep. Tom Reed. (Mark Mulville/News file photo)

What really happened, Reed said, is that he and Zeldin sent a letter to the Justice Department raising security concerns about the Green Light law. That letter never suggests shutting New Yorkers out of trusted traveler programs such as NEXUS and Global Entry; in fact, the letter never even mentions them.

Reed said he also had a conversation with Cuccinelli about his concerns about the Green Light law, but the Southern Tier congressman said he never suggested blocking New Yorkers from enrolling in federal trusted traveler programs as a reaction to the state act.

"We raised these concerns," Reed said. "We said: Go and look at the Green Light law. What is that going to do in regards to security impacts?"

But Cuomo, at his media event, insisted that Reed and Zeldin were behind the federal action.

"Congressman Reed and Congressman Zeldin are two Republican conservative Congress people," Cuomo said. "You (Cuccinelli) actually admit that you made this decision based on the wishes of two New York State Republican conservative politicians. There is supposed to be a line between politics and government. You're not supposed to be using government as a political tool."

[RELATED: Battle over trusted traveler programs devolves into federal-state stalemate]

If it seems that there might be a political element behind this Cuomo-Reed spat, well, there is.

Reed has been an increasingly outspoken critic of the governor in recent years, and has said he's open to the idea of possibly challenging Cuomo in the 2022 election.

And Cuomo isn't exactly famous for being kind and effacing to potential political rivals. So, as if for effect, Cuomo brought up Cuccinelli's comments about Reed and Zeldin two more times during his 30-minute event.

"They wanted him to take this action," Cuomo said four minutes before saying almost the exact same thing a third time.

That prompted Cuccinelli to take to Twitter late Friday afternoon to bash Cuomo for backing the Green Light law — and to quash the governor's theory about Reed and Zeldin.

"No one asked @DHSgov to kick NYers out of some (though not all) of our trusted traveler programs. In fact, other than wanting us to make the case for just how bad the NY law would be for NY, no one asked us to do anything," Cuccinelli wrote.

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