A stealthy political battle in Olympia flared into the open Wednesday, as state Attorney General Bob Ferguson published a 9-page letter defending his multiple legal actions against President Donald Trump’s administration.
Ferguson’s missive, addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and copied to all senators, came in response to an Oct. 9 inquiry from Senate Republican staff that sought “a list of all lawsuits currently pending against any entity of the federal government” filed since Jan. 1, as well as associated costs.
The answer: 17 lawsuits. The costs: “Minimal,” according to Ferguson, a Democrat.
“It is unfortunate that my office has had to take so many legal actions against the Trump Administration,” the letter states. “That said, I want to be very clear — I will continue to challenge any unlawful and unconstitutional actions by the Trump Administration that harm Washingtonians. The president will be accountable to the rule of law.”
Ferguson offered no additional statement apart from the letter. His communications director, Brionna Aho, reached Friday, said the letter “speaks for itself.”
Reached Thursday, Schoesler said he had seen the letter, but not examined it closely. He added that he was not aware of the original inquiry from staff to Ferguson’s office and was not one of the “anonymous Senate Republicans” mentioned in the letter.
“I looked it over briefly,” Schoesler said. “I couldn’t pass a test on it.”
Ferguson’s letter describes various legal actions where the state is the lead plaintiff or a partner with other states. Most of the suits are still active. Many relate to immigration issues, chiefly travel restrictions sought by the Trump administration. Another lawsuit filed in September by 17 attorneys general aims at Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which involves so-called “Dreamers,” meaning children brought to the United States by parents who entered the country illegally.
Another lawsuit would block Trump’s announced ban on transgender people serving in the military. Additional cases relate to environmental and energy-efficiency standards, and consumer protections for college students who obtain loans. Ferguson also notes that he twice sued the Obama administration regarding issues related to the Hanford nuclear facility, adding that the inquiry from Senate staff sought no information regarding those actions.
Noting that his actions are intended to preserve rules protecting consumers and workers, as well as fighting decisions he believes are unconstitutional, Ferguson touted an unbroken record of success.
“Every court to rule on our lawsuits has ruled in favor of Washington state,” Ferguson wrote.
He contends that legal costs are minimal, echoing similar statements from his predecessor, Rob McKenna, who filed suit against the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act, a move supported at the time by Senate Republicans, including Schoesler.
Assistant attorneys in his office work in the evenings and weekends on the cases, Ferguson argued, resulting in limited expense.
“While these 17 lawsuits are extremely important, and therefore receive significant attention, they represent a tiny fraction of the work my office is doing on behalf of the people and the state of Washington each and every day,” the letter states.
Asked about those costs, Schoesler said that state agencies represented by the Attorney General’s office are billed for legal services, and such accounting is the norm in state government.
“I hope that the attorney general has time for his traditional clients in state government,” Schoesler said.
The lawsuits filed since January by Ferguson’s office, along with public criticisms of the Trump administration have raised his national profile, and fueled speculation that he intends to run for governor in 2020. The News Tribune reported on that gossip in May. Ferguson brushed off the idea, but political insiders from both parties said his moves built a store of credibility with the state’s Democratic base.
“That would be my observation as well,” Schoesler said. “I think everybody in Olympia pretty much believes that he’s looking for opportunities.”