Sen. Cory Booker said President Donald Trump has made it harder for the federal government to go after domestic terrorist groups.
“For Donald Trump to cut funding — to cut funding from the Justice Department to investigate, I mean, he talks about terrorism all the time, but to cut funding to investigate these domestic terrorist groups, these white supremacist groups, is making us less safe,” Booker said during a March 27 CNN town hall in Orangeburg, S.C.
When we asked Booker’s campaign for evidence that Trump cut funding for the Justice Department to investigate terrorism, his campaign largely cited cuts to a separate agency — the Department of Homeland Security. And the cuts that Booker cited were grants that experts told us were for the prevention of terrorism, not the investigation of terrorism.
The FBI, under the umbrella of the Justice Department, is the main entity that investigates terrorism. We found no evidence that Trump has cut back investigative funds for the FBI.
Trump administration retooled Obama-era grant program
When we asked about Booker’s statement, his team pointed us to cuts to the Countering Violent Extremism grant program. CVE was launched under Obama to work with community leaders to deter U.S. residents from joining violent extremists groups.
In the final days of Obama’s tenure, the Homeland Security announced 31 groups would be awarded a total of $10 million in grants. (The Justice Department was part of a CVE task force, but it was Homeland Security that awarded the grants.)
Some of the awardees named under Obama had dropped out, citing fears of anti-Muslim bias under the new president.
Offers to other awardees had been rescinded. Two that drew attention: Life After Hate and University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Although both organizations proposed countering messages of extremists or jihadists, they also mentioned expertise in some specific areas. Life After Hate was founded by former neo-Nazis and skinheads while UNC said it had expertise in far right extremism and white supremacy.
Homeland Security spokespersons said at the time that the applicants were rejected because they didn’t meet new criteria like working with law enforcement. They were not, they said, rejected for their interest in countering white supremacist thought.
Indeed, our review of the accepted projects showed that these grant applicants were strongly centered around working with Muslims, immigrants or refugees; white supremacists were scarcely mentioned.
Trump faced criticism that the Countering Violent Extremism program was now too focused on Muslims. But the Obama administration faced the same critique, including from the liberal Brennan Center.
“The picture is more nuanced than, ‘The Obama administration was going after white supremacists and the Trump administration stopped it,’” Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program, told PolitiFact. “Neither went after white supremacists.”
The CVE grants will end in July and the administration has not requested additional funding, suggesting the grant program could end.
Trump proposed cuts to various programs
Booker’s spokeswoman also pointed to other Homeland Security programs that Trump proposed to cut including the Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attacks. These grants were created following the 2016 terrorist attacks in Paris to help state and local jurisdictions to prepare for and prevent attacks. The grants expire in July.
But experts told us that these grant programs are not intended to be directed at investigations. The main investigative agency is the FBI, and we couldn’t find any available data that would show us whether the FBI has cut back on investigating domestic terrorism under Trump.
“I don’t know of public information that would say one way or another, they don’t publicize resource allocation at that level,” said Brian Jackson, a homeland security researcher at the RAND Corporation who co-wrote a report for Homeland Security on terrorism prevention.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, an expert on terrorism and CEO of Valens Global consulting firm, was a senior advisor to the director of Office of Community Partnerships, which oversaw the CVE program, under both Obama and Trump. He, too, said that these grant programs were not for investigations: “There is no evidence at all that investigations have been cut.”
But Gartenstein-Ross said programs that are designed to thwart domestic terrorism play an important role, even when they are not investigative.
Cutting such programs raises red flags among those who believe the federal government should do more to prevent domestic terrorism.
“We should be increasing our ability to work with state and local law enforcement to counter domestic terrorists – not inhibiting it,” said Ryan Greer, who works on extremism issues at the Anti-Defamation League and formerly worked at the Department of Homeland Security.
Booker spokeswoman Sabrina Singh challenged the notion that the anti-terrorism programs Booker referenced in his criticism of Trump were preventative, not investigative: “I think that is a narrow interpretation. It’s clearly a partnership that helps with investigative work”
Booker said Trump “cut funding from the Justice Department to investigate these domestic terrorist groups, these white supremacist groups.”
For evidence, Booker pointed to cuts to programs from a separate agency — Homeland Security. He didn’t cite evidence of funding cuts in the Justice Department. In addition, Booker cited as an example the Countering Violent Extremism grant program which set to run out of funds this summer. This program funds terrorism prevention in local communities, not investigations. In 2017, the Trump administration did rescind two Obama-approved CVE grants to groups that had expertise in neo-Nazis, far right extremism or white supremacy.
We rate this statement Mostly False.