House Democrats ask watchdogs to probe federal crackdown on protests
Three House Democratic chairs are calling for government watchdogs in the Trump administration to investigate the use of federal force against recent protests over police brutality and racial inequality.
The leaders wrote a letter to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz and Homeland Security Department Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari on Sunday calling for a probe into the administration’s use of federal law enforcement officials in several cities amid the protests, on the heels of recent reports of federal law enforcement officials using unmarked vehicles to detain protesters in Portland, Ore.
“The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appear to have increasingly abused emergency authorities to justify the use of force against Americans exercising their right to peaceful assembly,” wrote House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).
“Reports from Oregon this week make clear that this misuse of resources and personnel remains a growing threat. Accordingly, we write to request an investigation by your offices into the use of federal law enforcement agencies by the Attorney General and the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security to suppress First Amendment protected activities in Washington, D.C., Portland, and other communities across the United States,” they added.
In addition to the recent reports of use of force in Portland, the lawmakers noted earlier incidents from last month when federal authorities in riot gear used chemical agents, smoke and rubber bullets to forcibly clear protesters in D.C.’s Lafayette Square ahead of President Trump’s photo-op at the nearby St. John’s Church.
The Democrats also write that this is “not the first time The Trump Administration has used force to suppress dissent.” The Democrats wrote that in 2017 federal officials assisted local law enforcement officers in deploying cold water cannons, pepper spray and tear gas on Americans protesting the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline in the Standing Rock Reservation.
“This is a matter of utmost urgency,” Democrats wrote in the letter. “Citizens are concerned that the Administration has deployed a secret police force, not to investigate crimes but to intimidate individuals it views as political adversaries, and that the use of these tactics will proliferate throughout the country. Therefore, we ask that you commence your review of these issues immediately.”
Local Democratic leaders have widely condemned the Trump administration’s use of federal law enforcement in their cities.
Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) on Sunday said the presence of federal law enforcement is leading to more violence in the city and called for their removal.
“They are not helping us, they are hurting us. They are escalating an already dangerous situation,” Wheeler said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And what I want to do is raise awareness nationally. This could happen in your city, and what we’re seeing is a blatant abuse of police tactics by the federal government, by a Trump administration that’s falling in the polls, and this is a direct threat to our democracy.”
Trump tweeted Sunday morning that the administration is trying to “help Portland, not hurt it.”
“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!” Trump tweeted.
His tweet in defense of the federal officials came after Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum (D) sued federal agencies on Friday over the detention of protesters. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also filed a similar lawsuit against federal agencies over deploying the agents to quell demonstrators in Portland.
The ACLU and other civil rights groups also filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the Trump administration and the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department over the forcible clearing of Lafayette Square on June 1.