SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California’s top law enforcement official blasted his former congressional colleague, House Speaker Paul Ryan, on Friday for suggesting that a lack of political experience helps explain President Donald Trump’s questionable interactions with James Comey when he was FBI director.
In an interview with The Associated Press, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra labeled Ryan an “accomplice” for defending what he termed Trump’s incompetence or dereliction of his presidential duties. Becerra served in Congress prior to being appointed attorney general earlier this year.
“How dare you say it’s a novice mistake?” Becerra said of comments by Ryan and others defending the president.
Becerra was referring to Trump’s potentially illegal efforts to get Comey to drop the investigation into then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s interactions with Russian officials. Ryan said Thursday that Trump should be forgiven because he is “new at government” and “learning as he goes.”
Becerra said ignorance of the law is not an acceptable excuse for Trump.
Ryan’s spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, did not immediately respond to an email request seeking comment.
Becerra was appointed after former attorney general Kamala Harris, another vocal Trump critic, was elected to the U.S. Senate. He and other Democrats who control all major political offices in California have positioned the state as the front lines of resistance to many Trump administration policies.
Becerra said continued political theater in Washington won’t stop California from enacting its own agenda on immigration, the environment and a host of other issues.
In a wide-ranging interview, Becerra also defended the death penalty, the state’s cooperation with federal agents in fighting drugs and sex trafficking, and said he sees no sign yet of a federal crackdown on California’s burgeoning recreational marijuana industry.
But he also promised to continue fighting Trump’s agenda, bringing legal action and joining other states when necessary.
Becerra said he has tried to engage with the Trump administration without much success. His efforts to meet with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly for more clarity on their plans to enforce federal immigration law have gone unmet despite multiple requests, Becerra said.
Meanwhile, California’s Legislature is considering making California a “sanctuary state” by limiting how much state and local law enforcement officers may collaborate with the federal government’s immigration enforcement efforts, as well as bills to make it harder for immigration authorities to raid businesses.
But even as state legislators work to resist federal enforcement, Becerra suggested there’s room for collaboration between state officials and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, from sex trafficking to cracking down on illegal drug flow.
“I’m not trying to thwart ICE from doing its work, they’re doing some really important stuff and we’re doing some really important stuff with them,” Becerra said. “And so it just helps to have some clarity and predictability.”
On other topics, Becerra said:
— California could file climate-related lawsuits, but it will depend on what actions the Trump administration takes.
“We’re going to continue to do what we’ve been doing,” he said. “If someone wants to try to stop us, then they’re probably going to run into me.”
He pointed to his efforts to defend California’s energy efficiency and emissions standards. He said he has received no response from the Freedom of Information Act request he filed two months ago seeking documents he said could show conflicts of interest and ethics violations by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. Pruitt had sued his new agency multiple times while he was attorney general of Oklahoma.
— Becerra defended the death penalty as constitutional, but stressed that officials need to be “cautious.” There are “too many cases” of people wrongfully sentenced to death row, he said.
— Becerra said he doesn’t think the federal government will make a “comprehensive effort” to crack down on recreational marijuana industries in states like California that have legalized the drug.
“My sense is that they know that if they try to do something on a large scale then they’re going to run into a real juggernaut against them,” he said.
He added that he would defend California’s marijuana industry if the federal government does try to crack down.
Associated Press writers Sophia Bollag, Jonathan J. Cooper, Kathleen Ronayne and photographer Rich Pedroncelli contributed to this story.