Donald Trump is set to escalate his federal intervention in cities Wednesday by expanding ‘Operation Legend,’ deploying FBI and other agents to Chicago and Albuquerque to quell what he claims is out of control violence.
The move was to be announced Wednesday afternoon by Trump at the White House – putting him once again at odds with Democratic mayors, especially Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
They have opposed deploying federal forces to tackle protests. But Operation Legend, which was started in Kansas City, MO, involves surging Department of Justice, not Department of Homeland Security, agents to tackle crime rather then protests.
Lightfoot offered some off-ramp to the tensions Wednesday, saying a plan to surge FBI and DEA agents to help her city contend with local crime had her approval – but not an ‘undemocratic’ insertion of unidentified Homeland Security agents, as Trump has ordered in Portland.
Her statement signaled a possible de-escalation as critics fume about the Trump administration’s use of ‘secret’ Homeland Security Investigations agents who have taken part in violent clashes with protesters in Portland.
Lightfoot, who has publicly clashed with President Trump, had vowed there would be no ‘Portland-style deployment’ in her city, just hours before gun violence erupted at a funeral.
Fifteen people were wounded on Chicago’s South Side in the shooting outside a funeral home Tuesday night. Police said at least 60 bullets were fired in the shootout when gunmen in a car opened fire on the funeral party, who then returned fire on the vehicle.
Violent crime is soaring across Chicago, with 12 killed in shootings and another 51 injured this weekend.
The Trump expansions of Operation Legend puts AG Bill Barr’s resources into both Chicago and Albuquerque.
While crime has soared in Chicago – there were 116 murders over the 28 days through July 19, an increase of nearly 200 percent, police department data shows – the reason for the deployment to the New Mexico city is less clear-cut.
The Bernalillo Democratic sheriff, Manuel Gonzales, was expected at the White House Wednesday, the Albuquerque Journal reported, but the city’s mayor Tim Keller – also a Democrat – said he did not want federal assistance.
Operation Legend was launched in Kansas City at the invitation of local officials, who were concerned about a rise in gun crime – not about protests.
It has seen FBI, DEA and ATF agents increase their presence in the city.
It announced its first arrest Monday: Monty W. Ray, 20, who agents pulled over in a stolen vehicle. They called him a ‘violent crime waiting to happen.’
He had outstanding warrants for assault on an officer and fleeing after he allegedly ran over a police officer’s foot. His lawyer said he was a habitual drug user.
In Chicago, police superintendent David Brown blamed turf battles among the roughly 117,000 gang members in the city of 2.7 million people, where one shooting begets another in an endless cycle of revenge.
‘This same cycle repeats itself over and over and over again. This cycle is fueled by street gangs, guns and drugs,’ he said. ‘Too many people in Chicago have been touched by gun violence.’
Lightfoot also vowed in a tweet before that incident: ‘Under no circumstances will I allow Donald Trump’s troops to come to Chicago and terrorize our residents.’
Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, told reporters Tuesday she spoke with U.S. John Lausch and received reassurances, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. On Monday, the Chicago Tribune reported DHS would dispatch 150 of its HSI agents to the city, after Trump said he was ‘sending in law enforcement.’
According to an HSI website, its agents tackle a variety of crime, including ‘narcotics and weapons smuggling/trafficking’ as well as ‘transnational gang activity.’
‘I don’t put anything past this administration, which is why we will continue to be diligent and why we will continue to be ready,’ sad Lightfoot. ‘If we need to stop them and use the courts to do so, we are ready to do that.’
Amid confusion about what federal agents might be sent in, Lightfoot hedged her language. DHS has refused to comment on ‘leaked’ reports about its agents being deployed.
‘What I understand at this point — and I caveat that — is that the Trump administration is not going to foolishly deploy unnamed agents to the streets of Chicago,’ she said.
‘As I understand it, what we will be getting are some additional resources in the FBI, the DEA and the ATF,’ she added.
She even described the federal help as potentially useful in combatting the city’s crime wave – which Trump made a campaign issue in 2016 and has been fuming about again.
‘What we will receive is resources that are going to plug into the existing federal agencies that we work with on a regular basis to help manage and suppress violent crime in our city,’ she said.
She said Laushch would be ‘in the loop.’ She called what happened in Portland ‘not only unconstitutional, it was undemocratic.’
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany had to field questions at Tuesday’s press briefing about a former U.S. Navy serviceman who was beaten and pepper sprayed by federal agents in Portland, where protests have centered around a federal courthouse.
McEnany cited a statute allowing for the protection of federal assets as the justification for sending federal agents there despite opposition from state and local officials. There was no such immediate threat to a federal building in Chicago.
She also cited instances of protesters hurling objects at police. The feds sent in the forces after weeks of protests over the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for information about what federal agents were being sent to Chicago.
Police said the incident Tuesday night took place near where a funeral was being held for a man shot and killed last week in the city.
Lightfoot tweeted: ”When a person picks up a gun, we suffer as a city. This cannot be who we are. Too many guns are on our streets and in the hands of people who should never possess them. These individuals will be held accountable.’
Trump brandished the power of federal law enforcement at the White House on Monday.
‘I’m gonna do something, that I can tell you,’ Trump vowed, ‘because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country,’ he said.
There will be ‘more federal law enforcement, that I can tell you,’ Trump said.