Oregon governor says some federal officers are leaving Portland

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced Wednesday that the Trump administration has agreed to begin withdrawing federal tactical teams from Portland, Ore., which for weeks has been the site of violent clashes between officers and protesters.

Brown said in a statement that an agreement for federal agents to leave the city was reached following discussions with administration officials including Vice President Pence. She said that officers from Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement would begin their withdrawal on Thursday.

“These federal officers have acted as an occupying force, refused accountability, and brought violence and strife to our community," Brown said.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Our local Oregon State Police officers will be downtown to protect Oregonians' right to free speech and keep the peace," she added. "Let's center the Black Lives Matter movement's demands for racial justice and police accountability. It's time for bold action to reform police practices."

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is expected to retain a presence in the city, however, and the Trump administration pushed back on the suggestion that agents would begin leaving as early as Thursday. Brown said a "limited contingent of federal officials" will stay focused on protecting the interior of a federal courthouse that has been at the center of unrest.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfCuccinelli says DHS to change camouflage uniforms of federal agents used in Portland House Intelligence panel opens probe into DHS's involvement in response to protests Progressive Caucus co-chair: Reported oversight change in intelligence office 'seems a bit...fascist' MORE was less definitive, saying only that an agreement had been reached for Oregon State Police to take on an increased role in downtown Portland. 

"The Department will continue to maintain our current, augmented federal law enforcement personnel in Portland until we are assured that the Hatfield Federal Courthouse and other federal properties will no longer be attacked and that the seat of justice in Portland will remain secure," Wolf said in a statement.

"The Department will continue to re-evaluate our security posture in Portland, and should circumstances on the ground significantly improve due to the influx of state and local law enforcement, we anticipate the ability to change our force posture, as we do everyday at our other 9,000 federal properties we protect across the country," he added.

ADVERTISEMENT

In a conference call with reporters, Wolf argued nothing about DHS's position had changed. Federal personnel will remain in Portland, he said, with agents on the ground determining when it's appropriate to scale back their presence once state authorities have secured the area.  

A spokesman for the vice president added that Pence had told Brown earlier this week "that federal law enforcement will remain in Portland until violence directed toward them & the federal courthouse is brought to an end by state and local authorities."

The announcement that DHS would begin to wind down its presence came just a short time after President TrumpDonald John TrumpMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Trump camp considering White House South Lawn for convention speech: reports Longtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary MORE was defiant in telling reporters at the White House that the federal government would not leave "until they’ve secured their city."

Portland has served as a flashpoint in the Trump administration's push to crack down on Democratic-run cities as the president focuses on a law-and-order message ahead of the November election. DHS agents were deployed to the city weeks ago amid protests against racial injustice.

The presence of federal law enforcement became the source of escalating tensions in recent weeks, as officers used tear gas and other repellents against protesters who gathered each day outside the federal courthouse.

ADVERTISEMENT

Officers’ actions also prompted added scrutiny after reports surfaced that people were being detained and placed into unmarked vans. Local officials, including Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D), repeatedly called for the federal agencies to leave the city, saying that they were causing more harm than good.

Wheeler, who was hit with tear gas after joining protesters outside the courthouse last week, called the federal officers' tactics "flat-out urban warfare" being "wrought on the people of this country by the president of the United States" at the time.

In a press call with other mayors on Wednesday, Wheeler said that he was "pleased we've reclaimed Portland."

“I’m going to continue to stand with other mayors and we will continue to fight this occupation until these forces are gone from every city,” he said.

Protesters have reported being detained by unidentified agents and being tear gassed and struck with non-lethal ammunition deployed by law enforcement. Those allegations prompted calls from local and federal officials for investigations into federal agencies' actions.

Brown and Wheeler have for weeks urged the administration to remove the agents from the city, arguing they were inciting violence and worsening tensions. Other Democratic leaders around the country have signed on to letters warning the president against deploying federal officers to their cities.

Trump and other officials have characterized the protesters as "anarchists," and agents on the ground have described having water bottles, rocks and fireworks aimed at them.

"They either clean out their city and do it right, or we’re going to have to do it for them," Trump said Wednesday.

Updated at 2:08 p.m.