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Dems request watchdog probe use of federal law enforcement in DC during Floyd protests

Dems request watchdog probe use of federal law enforcement in DC during Floyd protests
© Greg Nash

Senate Democrats are requesting a government watchdog office investigate the use of federal law enforcement during protests in Washington, D.C., sparked by the police killing of George Floyd late last month in Minneapolis.

Fourteen Democrats sent a letter, spearheaded by Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinDemocrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Democrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate battle Democratic Senate emerges as possible hurdle for progressives  MORE (D-Ill.), to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), requesting an investigation into "the use of Federal law enforcement, National Guard, and military personnel" in response to the protests. 

"The use of force against Americans on June 1 at Lafayette Square was abhorrent and shocking. This event alone provides substantial reason to question whether the Administration’s response to the demonstrations was organized, accountable, and consistent with applicable laws and the Constitution," the Democratic senators wrote.

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The Trump administration sparked fierce backlash and days of controversy, including from GOP lawmakers, after it forcibly removed protesters from an area near the White House shortly before President TrumpDonald John TrumpHillary Clinton responds to Chrissy Teigen tweet: 'I love you back' Police called after Florida moms refuse to wear face masks at school board meeting about mask policy Supreme Court rejects Trump effort to shorten North Carolina mail-ballot deadline MORE and other administration officials walked through. 

The Democratic senators also wrote that Trump's remarks to governors that he had put Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley “in charge" and that they should "dominate" the streets "only add to our grave concerns." 

In addition to Durbin, Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerHouse Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Graham dismisses criticism from Fox Business's Lou Dobbs Lewandowski: Trump 'wants to see every Republican reelected regardless of ... if they break with the president' MORE (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Sens. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenDemocratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing Democratic senators offer bill to make payroll tax deferral optional for federal workers MORE (Md.), Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedOvernight Defense: Dems want hearing on DOD role on coronavirus vaccine | US and India sign data-sharing pact | American citizen kidnapped in Niger Senate Democrats want hearing on Pentagon vaccine effort Governors urge negotiators to include top priorities in final defense policy bill MORE (R.I.), Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyTech CEOs clash with lawmakers in contentious hearing OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump strips protections for Tongass forest, opening it to logging | Interior 'propaganda' video and tweets may violate ethics laws, experts say | Democrats see Green New Deal yielding gains despite GOP attacks Democrats see Green New Deal yielding gains despite GOP attacks MORE (Mass.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyWorking together to effectively address patient identification during COVID-19 Schumer says he had 'serious talk' with Feinstein, declines to comment on Judiciary role Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority MORE (Vt.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOn The Money: Dow falls more than 900 points amid fears of new COVID-19 restrictions | Democrats press Trump Org. about president's Chinese bank account | Boeing plans thousands of additional job cuts Democrats press Trump Organization about president's Chinese bank account Plaintiff and defendant from Obergefell v. Hodges unite to oppose Barrett's confirmation MORE (Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoOvernight Defense: Dems want hearing on DOD role on coronavirus vaccine | US and India sign data-sharing pact | American citizen kidnapped in Niger Senate Democrats want hearing on Pentagon vaccine effort FCC reaffirms order rolling back net neutrality regulations MORE (Hawaii), Christopher CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsWhat a Biden administration should look like Bitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Ocasio-Cortez: Republicans don't believe Democrats 'have the stones to play hardball' MORE (Del.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinInfrastructure, energy investments urgently needed to create U.S. jobs Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing Baldwin calls for Senate hearing on CDC response to meatpacking plant coronavirus outbreak MORE (Wis.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichBottom line Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Senate Democrats seek removal of controversial public lands head after nomination withdrawal MORE (N.M.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharTrump announces intention to nominate two individuals to serve as FEC members Start focusing on veterans' health before they enlist Durbin says he will run for No. 2 spot if Dems win Senate majority MORE (Minn.), as well as independent Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOcasio-Cortez says she doesn't plan on 'staying in the House forever' What a Biden administration should look like Ocasio-Cortez: 'Trump is the racist visionary, but McConnell gets the job done' MORE (Vt.), signed the letter.

The senators are asking for the GAO to investigate who was in charge of the law enforcement response in D.C., including specific roles that federal departments and agencies played; who specifically ordered Lafayette Square to be cleared shortly before Trump walked to St. John’s Episcopal Church; and who ordered "chemical irritants" to be used and who ordered law enforcement or military police to "deliberately obscure badges and insignia or refuse to publicly represent their agency affiliation, and for what purpose?"

Armed officers not wearing identifiers were spotted near the White House during the protests earlier this month, sparking demands from lawmakers for details from the administration on what agencies had been deployed to D.C. A Justice Department spokeswoman told CBS News earlier this month that federal law enforcement under the department's jurisdiction, including the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals, Bureau of Prisons and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were deployed. 

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The Democratic senators also want to know the rules each agency involved had on the use of force and if the Pentagon's actions were "consistent with laws allowing the DoD to support, but not supplant, civil authorities."  

The Democratic request for a GAO probe comes as The New York Times reported on Thursday that the Air Force's inspector general is opening a probe into whether the military improperly used a reconnaissance aircraft to conduct surveillance of the protests in Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis.

Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperOvernight Defense: Trump campaign's use of military helicopter raises ethics concerns | Air Force jets intercept aircraft over Trump rally | Senators introduce bill to expand visa screenings Trump campaign event use of Marine Corps helicopter raises ethics questions The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Smart or senseless for Biden to spend time in Georgia, Iowa? MORE also announced earlier this month that he had initiated an “After Action Review” of the National Guard’s role in nationwide protests. 

Van Hollen sent a separate letter to Esper requesting details on the decision to deploy National Guard troops to D.C., including the cost of the deployment and the legal justification for the deployments.