Trump Sued for Threat to Pull Covid-19 Funding Over Indian Blockade

President Donald Trump’s chief of staff threatened to garnish federal coronavirus relief funding from a South Dakota Indian tribe if it didn’t remove roadblocks intended to limit the spread of the virus, according to a lawsuit.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe said the threat was one of several federal officials made after South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem asked the president for help in getting rid of the checkpoints.

The tribe erected roadblocks on highways that pass through its reservation in early April when the coronavirus began spreading in South Dakota. Indian officers at the roadblocks ask travelers who are not simply passing through the reservation to fill out travel plans that provide contact information and detailed itineraries.

The checkpoints have been effective, keeping the rate of infection “significantly” below that of South Dakota, and no one from the tribe has died from Covid-19 to date, the group said.

“The tribe’s Covid-19 response planning is essential to protect the tribal population, which suffers heightened vulnerability to the disease because of endemic poverty and health disparities,” the group said in the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Washington federal court.

Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said: “President Trump has provided unprecedented support to the American Indian community, including $8 billion to address coronavirus preparedness, response and recovery through the CARES Act.”

The tribe said Chief of Staff Mark Meadows “threatened the security” of the tribe’s coronavirus relief in a phone call with the tribe’s chairman on June 9. After boasting about the amount of money -- $8 billion -- provided to Native Americans in the CARES Act, Meadows said, “I’m proud of that, but I also need you to use that money so that it doesn’t create a problem for me on . . . other issues because we still have another 40% of the money to go out,” according to the lawsuit.

White House and Bureau of Indian Affairs officials have also threatened to take over the tribe’s police department, according to the lawsuit.

The tribe asked a judge for an order blocking the administration’s actions and declaring them unlawful. The president, Meadows and other government officials are named as defendants.

The government’s efforts infringe on the tribe’s self-government and self-determination and endanger its effort to be “an island of safety in a sea of uncertainty and death,” the group claims.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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