President Donald Trump today congratulated the head of the Department of Homeland Security for quelling protests against police violence in Portland. Trump confirmed reports that he sent federal officers to crack down on property destruction at the federal courthouse, because "the locals couldn't handle it."
The president brought up Portland at a meeting of military commanders in Doral, Fla., to discuss drug trafficking. His remarks were posted by the White House and reported this afternoon by Oregon Public Broadcasting.
For six weeks, a nightly uprising against racism and killings by police has marched through the streets of Portland, with protesters typically converging at downtown courthouses. On some nights, protesters have sprayed graffiti and set fires at or near those buildings, including the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse.
Trump deployed Homeland Security officers to Portland on July 2, as part of an executive order to protect national monuments. Homeland Security, which typically focuses on securing the border and preventing terrorist attacks, has monitored left-wing protests in Portland since at least 2017.
The president implied Portland police were hamstrung by the city's liberal elected officials from stopping property destruction. "Local law enforcement has been told not to do too much," Trump said. "It's not the way it's supposed to be, but that's OK."
He described Portland's protesters as "a pretty wild group."
Whether police or protesters are in fact responsible for an escalation in hostilities over recent weeks is a matter of bitter dispute in Portland. Since protests began May 29, property destruction at the courthouses has been a feature of nightly gatherings. But so has violent force employed by police to protect those buildings—leading to a chicken-or-egg question of who's responsible for showdowns where police have deployed tear gas at least 1 in every 4 nights.
Portland police have attributed $23 million in property damage to protesters—a claim that has been repeated by cable news networks, which the president faithfully watches. Today, The Oregonian revealed that most of that figure was lost revenue reported by Pioneer Place Mall, which was ordered closed because of COVID-19.
Neither the office of Mayor Ted Wheeler nor the Portland Police Bureau could immediately be reached for comment on Trump's remarks.
Here is the full transcript of a conversation between Trump and acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Admiral. I appreciate it.
Now, Chad Wolf, maybe you could also mention what's going on in Portland, because we sent you there recently. It was out of control. The locals couldn't handle it, and you people are handling it very nicely — so nicely that the press doesn't want to write about it. But why don't you tell them what you're doing in Portland, and also go into this, please?
ACTING SECRETARY WOLF: Well, thank you, Mr. President. I think what we see in Portland is really a smaller example of what we see around the country regarding some of the civil unrest and the attacks on law enforcement. And what you find in Portland is about five and a half weeks of continued violence against the federal courthouse there that the Department of Homeland Security protects.
We've had to send in additional individuals. We're making arrests. But there has been violence, there's been assaults on federal law enforcement officers. And it really just shouldn't occur. We should have more support of the local police there. But again, the Department of Homeland Security, along with the DOJ, FBI, and others are surging resources, and we're starting to make a difference there.
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. How many have you arrested?
ACTING SECRETARY WOLF: I believe it's been close to a dozen thus far. And DOJ has charged almost as many as well.
THE PRESIDENT: And I know you have it in very good control, but it's a — it's a pretty wild group, but you have it in very good control.
ACTING SECRETARY WOLF: Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: So we're appreciate it. Local law enforcement has been told not to do too much. It's not the way it's supposed to be, but that's OK.
Good job. You've really done a great job.
ACTING SECRETARY WOLF: Thank you.