Democrat Senators Demand Answers From Trump Administration on Deployment of Federal Law Enforcement

July 22, 2020 Updated: July 22, 2020

In the wake of President Donald Trump saying that he is ready to send more federal law enforcement to cities where federal property is being attacked, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is leading a group of 27 senators to demand answers from Department of Justice and Homeland Security on the legal basis of the intervention.

Booker, along with Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and 23 other senators sent a letter Wednesday, demanding that Attorney General Bill Barr and Acting Secretary Chad Wolf give them answers on what they called “alarming actions taken against protesters by federal law enforcement agents.”

“Federal officials should not be dispatched into the streets of our cities without proper authority, training, and accountability. Nor should they be violating the civil rights of Americans who are exercising their First Amendment rights and seeking reforms of their own government’s policies,” the letter (pdf) stated.

Booker’s letter criticized the Trump Administration for their decisions to send federal law enforcement to Portland, Oregon, following more than 50 days of violent protests.

“Portland has seen more than 50 consecutive days of protests in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s murder. Reports have emerged of a disturbing militarized response by federal agents dispatched to the city,” the senators wrote.

President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter on July 19 that he is seeking to help Portland after months of protests and riots by sending in federal law enforcement to handle the “anarchists.”

“We are trying to help Portland, not hurt it,” the president wrote. “Their leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators. They are missing in action. We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE. These were not merely protesters, these are the real deal!”

The acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli told NPR, that the justification for sending in federal law enforcement officers to Portland was the destruction of federal property and personnel.

“I fully expect that as long as people continue to be violent and to destroy property that we will attempt to identify those folks. We will pick them up in front of the courthouse. If we spot them elsewhere, we will pick them up elsewhere,” said Cuccinelli.

President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday a surge of federal law enforcement into Chicago, Illinois, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.

He said his administration will send more federal law enforcement personnel to major cities facing a surge in violence.

“We’re not going to let this happen in our country,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Monday. “We will have more federal law enforcement. That I can tell you.” He also said Oakland, California, could see federal agents.

The senators went to say that federal officers are using excessive measures to deal with protestors. They wrote that the arrest happens without properly reading protestors their Miranda rights, wearing military-style woodland camouflage to intimidate, and with officers not being properly trained. They went on to criticize the Trump Administration’s use of the word “anarchists” in a recent press statement.

Secretary Wolf issued an official statement last week that “Portland has been under siege . . . by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city. Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it,”’ the letter referenced the quote from Wolf.

“This press release references ‘violent anarchists’ 72 times, including in documenting 20 instances of graffiti,” the letter continued.

The senators have a list of questions they want Barr and Wolf to answer by Aug. 4, such as: Who authorized the operations in Portland? What is their legal basis? Why are the officers not identifying themselves? What was the basis for the arrests made outside the limits of federal property? What training have the federal officers had to enable to handle civil unrest? Which cities will the administration be sending federal agents next? And what notification will the public be given about these actions in the future?

The senators went on to say they decry any form of violence.

“We decry violence in all its forms. But Americans should be able to exercise their rights under the First Amendment without inappropriate interference or legally questionable activities by federal officers,” the letter stated.