Politics

House Democrats call for an investigation into Trump's use of force against protestors in Portland

Key Points
  • Reports surfaced that as early as July 14, federal law enforcement agents have been using unmarked vehicles in Portland to arrest those participating in protests.
  • "The Attorney General of the United States does not have unfettered authority to direct thousands of federal law enforcement personnel to arrest and detain American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights," several Democratic congressmembers wrote in a joint letter. 
Protesters seen near the Multnomah County Justice Center on July 17, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Federal law enforcement agencies attempt to intervene as protests continue in Portland.
Mason Trinca | Getty Images News | Getty Images

House Democrats on Sunday called for an immediate investigation into reports that federal law enforcement agents have unlawfully arrested protestors in Portland, Oregon in recent days. 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney co-signed a letter on Sunday condemning the recent law enforcement actions authorized by the Trump administration in Portland and last month in Washington D.C. and called for the Inspectors General of the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security to open investigations.

"The Attorney General of the United States does not have unfettered authority to direct thousands of federal law enforcement personnel to arrest and detain American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. The Acting Secretary [Chad Wolf] appears to be relying on an ill-conceived executive order meant to protect historic statues and monuments as justification for arresting American citizens in the dead of night." 

Reports surfaced that as early as July 14, federal law enforcement agents have been using unmarked vehicles in Portland to arrest those participating in protests, which were initially sparked by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day weekend. Federal authorities, including the U.S. Marshals' Special Operations Group, and a tactical unit from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, have allegedly arrested, searched and detained individuals without proper notification of their Miranda Rights.

On Sunday, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union" that the presence of federal troops and enforcement officers is actually leading to "more violence and more vandalism," adding that it's not helping the situation. 

"The tactics that the Trump administration are using on the streets of Portland is abhorrent," Wheeler says. "People are being scooped off the streets into unmarked vans and rental cars," he added, saying that those detained are being denied their right to due process. 

U.S. Border Patrol said in a statement that its "agents have been deployed to Portland in direct support of the Presidential Executive Order and the newly established DHS Protecting American Communities Task Force (PACT)."

"As a law enforcement component under DHS, CBP will be providing support, as needed at the request of the Federal Protective Service, to protect Federal facilities and property," Border Patrol said.

A Marshals' Service spokeswoman told CNBC that while the agency does use unmarked vehicles, its personnel wear clear identification on their uniforms. Additionally agents do let individuals know why they are being detained.

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Wolf condemned local leaders' resistance to additional law enforcement, saying in a letter issued Thursday that Portland "has been under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob while local political leaders refuse to restore order to protect their city."

President Trump also defended sending in federal agents on Sunday, saying that his administration is "are trying to help Portland, not hurt it."

In addition to the recent events in Portland, the House Democrats are also asking the inspectors general to investigate the actions taken by President Trump to clear protestors in Washington D.C. Last month, riot police from several federal agencies, including the Bureau of Prisons Crisis Management teams, were called in to forcibly clear protestors from Lafayette Square in front of the White House in Washington D.C. so President Donald Trump could participate in a photo-op in front of St. John's Church.

"The legal basis for this use of force has never been explained—and, frankly, it is not at all clear that the Attorney General and the Acting Secretary are authorized to deploy federal law enforcement officers in this manner," the Democratic lawmakers write.

VIDEO2:0102:01
Oregon officials object to federal agents grabbing protesters the off streets in Portland