Tensions between Oregon's congressional delegation and the administration of President Donald Trump increased today as the state's two U.S. senators and two of the U.S. representatives whose districts include Portland called for a federal investigation of the activities of federal forces in the city.
In the past week, those federal forces shot one protester in the head with crowd-control munitions and, according to reporting by Oregon Public Broadcasting, allegedly pulled at least two protesters off the streets into unmarked vehicles.
Those actions, conducted by forces answerable to Trump rather than local officials, prompted Democratic U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and U.S. Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici (all from Oregon) to call today for the inspectors general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate "the unrequested presence and violent actions of federal forces in Portland."
The four issued statements this afternoon.
"DHS and DOJ are engaged in acts that are horrific and outrageous in our constitutional democratic republic," Merkley said. "First, they are deploying paramilitary forces with no identification indicating who they are or who they work for. Second, these agents are snatching people off the street with no underlying justification. Both of these acts are profound offenses against Americans. We demand not only that these acts end, but also that they remove their forces immediately from our state. Given the egregious nature of the violations against Oregonians, we are demanding full investigations by the inspectors general of these departments."
"Oregonians' demand for answers about this occupying army and its paramilitary assaults in Portland at the direction of Donald Trump and Chad Wolf cannot be stonewalled," Wyden added. "That's not how it works in a democracy. It's painfully clear this administration is focused purely on escalating violence without answering my repeated requests for why this expeditionary force is in Portland and under what constitutional authority. Simply put, the Office of inspector general must investigate Trump's assault on Americans' constitutional rights now."
"The jarring reports of federal law enforcement officers grabbing peaceful protesters off the street should alarm every single American. This is not the way a government operates in a functioning democracy," Blumenauer said. "We are demanding an immediate inspector general investigation into these incidents to get answers from the Trump administration and ensure these disturbing abuses of power stop immediately."
"The overly aggressive conduct of federal officers in Portland is alarming and unconstitutional. Oregonians must be able to exercise their First Amendment rights safely, without being picked up and detained by unidentified federal officers," Bonamici said. "The president is intentionally provoking unrest and discord, and our community will not stand for it. He purports to be a law and order president, but his administration's actions are political bluster and are making our city and our country less safe. We will not rest until we get answers on behalf of Oregonians."
The calls for investigation follow earlier statements by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown expressing outrage at the federal forces' actions and letting Trump's administration know the forces are an unwelcome presence in Portland.
Countering those sentiments, Oregon Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod (R-Stayton) said the federal forces' presence is necessary.
"The governor has refused to defend Oregon law enforcement officers, allowing violent rioters to run the show and ruin efforts of peaceful protests. Federal law enforcement have been forced to step in and do what they can to disperse the anarchist riots in Portland after failed leadership by the governor," Girod said.
"The governor's political posturing has been expensive, as communities across the state have accrued damages to public places and businesses, further harming the livelihoods of Oregonians that are suffering during the COVID-19 event."
After the congressional delegation called for an investigation, the state's top federal law enforcement officer, U.S. Attorney for Oregon Billy Williams, weighed in with a statement of his own. Williams said that it was appropriate for federal forces to protect the U.S. District Courthouse and federal offices building downtown from "incursion and fire." Williams said those forces have, over the past 50 nights, attempted to identify people committing "violent acts" and arrest them. He also acknowledged the allegations against the feds.
"The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General appropriately opened an investigation into the use of less lethal ammunition directed at a protester last week," Williams said.
"Based on news accounts circulating that allege federal law enforcement detained two protesters without probable cause, I have requested the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General to open a separate investigation directed specifically at the actions of DHS personnel.
"As U.S. attorney, I will continue to work in concert with local and federal law enforcement and city and community leaders to bring about an end to this violence."