President Donald Trump’s administration surged assets to Oregon’s largest city in early July after rioters started damaging the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse, a federal building.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, agreed this week to send state troopers to Portland to help respond to rioting, but her claims that federal officers and agents are going to leave immediately thereafter conflict with top federal officials.
Accusing Brown of not doing her job, Trump wrote on Twitter on Thursday that federal forces wouldn’t be leaving “until there is safety!”
Brown, in return, criticized federal officials for “political grandstanding.”
“The President’s plan to ‘dominate’ the streets of American cities has failed. And today, federal troops are preparing to leave downtown Portland. We will protect free speech and the right to protest peacefully,” she said in a social media statement.
Brown said she spoke with Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials and said they agreed to withdraw officers starting on Thursday.
But that’s not what the officials are saying.
“DHS and law enforcement presence will remain in Portland until we can be assured that the plan put in place by the governor and the Oregon State Police is working, is effective, and they can continue to do it night after night,” acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Chad Wolf said during an appearance on Fox New’ “Ingraham Angle” late Wednesday.
Devin O’Malley, a Pence spokesman, said the vice president made it clear that law and order must be restored in Portland before federal officers are withdrawn.
Officials have declined to say how many officers were sent to bolster the federal presence. A much smaller presence is typically at the courthouse, including 40 U.S. Marshals, director Don Washington said on Fox earlier this week.
The state troopers slated to face off with demonstrators on Thursday will merely do what Portland police officers have failed to do, Ken Cuccinelli, acting DHS deputy secretary, said on Newsmax after the agreement was reached. “And that’s basic policing,” he said.
The level of violence has been dropping all week and he’s optimistic the federal and state partnership will encourage a continued decline, he said in a separate statement.
Portland Mayor and Police Commissioner Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, earlier this month ordered federal officers to leave the police command center and Portland’s City Council recently voted to bar local police officers from cooperating with federal officers.
City and state leaders described federal forces as occupying troops and blame the violence on the surge of officers.
Wheeler told reporters earlier this month that a mix of implementing what demonstrators have asked for, such as slashing the police bureau’s budget, and de-escalation tactics, or having police officers not engage with demonstrators, even in some cases when crimes are being committed, were working.
“What we saw was the numbers were dwindling, the energy in the crowd was decreasing and people were moving elsewhere to do other things. Then the feds came in,” he said.
Local police have been drawn into the new plan. At the request of state troopers, officers helped clear Lownsdale Park and Chapman Square on Thursday and made at least one arrest. The areas are about a block from the federal courthouse. Demonstrators tried setting up a so-called autonomous zone in Lownsdale but it was broken up and the park was subsequently fenced off.
During riots, people uprooted the fencing and carried it to the courthouse, where they used it to barricade exits as others set fires and smashed windows.
The violence led to federal officials setting up a strong fence around the courthouse, which has stood except for one night when a portion was toppled.
Clearing the park and square will help lead to federal officers leaving Portland, according to Wheeler.
The agreement followed a hearing in Washington on Tuesday, where Attorney General William Barr said violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests in the wake of George Floyd’s Memorial Day death.
“The current situation in Portland is a telling example. Every night for the past two months, a mob of hundreds of rioters has laid siege to the federal courthouse and other nearby federal property. The rioters arrive equipped for a fight, armed with powerful slingshots, tasers, sledgehammers, saws, knives, rifles, and explosive devices,” he said.
What’s happening cannot be described as a protest, he said, describing it as “an assault on the government of the United States.”
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) disputed the characterization, accusing the Trump administration of marching in and confronting protesters.
“The protesters are not mobs, they are mothers, veterans, mayors. Real leadership would entail de-escalation, collaboration, and looking for ways to peaceably resolve our differences. Instead, you used pepper spray on American citizens. You did it in Washington. You did it at Lafayette square. You expanded it to Portland,” he said.