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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 DurbinDick DurbinSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Partisan headwinds threaten Capitol riot commission Murkowski undecided on Tanden as nomination in limbo 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 TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress 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 SchumerThe bizarre back story of the filibuster Hillicon Valley: Biden signs order on chips | Hearing on media misinformation | Facebook's deal with Australia | CIA nominee on SolarWinds House Rules release new text of COVID-19 relief bill MORE (D-N.Y.) and Democratic Sens. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenMenendez reintroduces corporate diversity bill LIVE COVERAGE: Senate set to consider Garland for AG Plaskett quips male lawmakers 'would not have their wives in one attempt talking to her' during impeachment trial MORE (Md.), Jack ReedJack ReedCORRECTED: Overnight Defense: COVID-19 stymies effort to study sexual assault at military academies | Biden, Saudi king speak ahead of Khashoggi report Overnight Defense: New Senate Armed Services chairman talks Pentagon policy nominee, Afghanistan, more | Biden reads report on Khashoggi killing | Austin stresses vaccine safety in new video Senate Armed Services chair expects 'some extension' of troops in Afghanistan MORE (R.I.), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyLawmakers commemorate one-year anniversary of Arbery's killing Democrats revive debate over calling impeachment witnesses LIVE COVERAGE: Senate trial moves to closing arguments MORE (Mass.), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPress: The big loser: The Republican Party Senate acquits Trump in 57-43 vote Trump lawyer irked after senators laugh at him MORE (Vt.), Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill House Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike MORE (Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues Senators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Trump lawyers center defense around attacks on Democrats MORE (Hawaii), Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsPompeo: Release of Khashoggi report by Biden admin 'reckless' Senate Democrat: Saudi relationship being 'recalibrated' Democrats don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' MORE (Del.), Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinBiden signs supply chain order after 'positive' meeting with lawmakers Democrats want businesses to help get LGBT bill across finish line Democrats offer resolution denouncing white supremacists ahead of Trump trial MORE (Wis.), Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichUSPS adding up to 165K fuel efficient or electric delivery vehicles Democrats propose executive actions on electric vehicle acquisitions New rule shakes up Senate Armed Services subcommittees MORE (N.M.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharOpen-ended antitrust is an innovation killer FBI, DHS and Pentagon officials to testify on Capitol riot Five big takeaways on the Capitol security hearings MORE (Minn.), as well as independent Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSenate Democrats nix 'Plan B' on minimum wage hike Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill NFL's Justin Jackson praises Sanders for opposing Biden's USDA nominee 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 EsperCORRECTED: Overnight Defense: COVID-19 stymies effort to study sexual assault at military academies | Biden, Saudi king speak ahead of Khashoggi report Female generals' promotions held back over fears of Trump's response: report Overnight Defense: Army details new hair and grooming standards | DC National Guard chief says Pentagon restricted his authority before riot | Colorado calls on Biden not to move Space Command 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.