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California Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to launch an investigation into flights of migrants flown to Sacramento — which were orchestrated by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — saying he believes it’s clear a crime was committed.
“I know one was on the basis of all the interviews and all the facts that are now in evidence,” Newsom told TODAY’s Jacob Soboroff in an exclusive interview airing Thursday morning, adding, “Now we have to prove it.”
“Now, who’s ultimately accountable and responsible? I mean, the buck should stop with Ron DeSantis and the games he’s playing,” the Democratic governor said. “But it’s the folks on the front lines that were doing the dirty work. And that’s ultimately what we have to determine, is where the culpability lands and resides.”
Read more on this story at NBCNews.com and watch the interview on TODAY on Thursday at 7 a.m. ET.
Newsom’s comments escalate a growing battle between two powerful governors from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum. The California governor — an increasingly national figure in the Democratic Party who is often discussed as a potential presidential candidate — has gone after DeSantis on everything from guns, abortion, education, Disney and other social issues.
On Tuesday, Florida confirmed that DeSantis’ administration was responsible for the two private planes carrying groups of migrants to Sacramento without coordination with California. Roughly three dozen migrants arrived in total on the two flights, which landed on Friday and Monday.
Newsom tweeted at DeSantis on Monday, calling him a “small, pathetic man” and suggested that he could face kidnapping charges.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta, also a Democrat, tweeted, “State-sanctioned kidnapping is immoral.”
Soboroff asked Newsom if DeSantis should be concerned that California law enforcement will arrest him when he comes to the state for a fundraiser later this month. Newsom said that was “hyperbole” but said there was “potential” criminality.
“They’re human beings used as pawns for a guy’s political advancement. That’s pretty sad and pathetic,” Newsom said.
“This is California — fourth- or fifth-largest economy on planet Earth,” he continued. “We mean business. And so Ron DeSantis should know that.”
A spokesperson for Florida’s Division of Emergency Management said Tuesday that the migrants all went to California voluntarily.
“Through verbal and written consent, these volunteers indicated they wanted to go to California,” the statement read.
“As you can see from this video, Florida’s voluntary relocation is precisely that — voluntary,” the statement said, adding that a contractor was present and made sure the migrants made it safely to a third-party nongovernmental organization.
DeSantis has been leaning heavily into immigration in his run for the GOP nomination for president, using it to go after former President Donald Trump.
Last year, DeSantis attracted national attention — and a significant amount of criticism — for flying roughly 50 migrants, most of them Venezuelan, from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, the wealthy liberal vacation spot in Massachusetts, without notice. In February, Florida’s Republican-controlled state Legislature expanded the program used for the flights.
On Monday, a Texas sheriff said he was recommending that a local district attorney file criminal charges after an investigation into the Martha’s Vineyard incident, although it was not clear who would face those charges.