President Donald Trump announced Wednesday he was sending ‘hundreds’ of federal agents into Chicago and other cities to combat street violence – including an influx of a controversial Homeland Security unit that has been deployed in Portland.
The president also said he was holding back on dispatching what he termed ‘large numbers’ of federal agents, pending requests from city mayors – then added: ‘At some point we may have no other choice but to go in.’
Following a spate of gun violence in Chicago, plus clashes between federal agents and protesters that have stretched on for weeks in Portland, Trump said he ordered an ‘immediate surge’ of agents into the nation’s third largest city.
‘The FBI, ATF, DEA, US Marshalls Service and Homeland Security will together be sending hundreds of skilled law enforcement officers to Chicago to help drive down violent crime,’ Trump said at the White House.
The president defended his previous blasts at local leadership – all Democrats – while deploring a crime wave he casts as out of control.
‘Chicago is a disaster. The mayor is saying don’t come in. The mayor is telling us not to come in,’ the president fumed at an afternoon press briefing following his announcement.
‘At some point we can void that if we have to and we may have to because it’s out of control,’ Trump said.
He repeated the threat later in his remarks, accusing Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot of raising objections for ‘political reasons.’
‘She’s a Democrat. I’m going to be nice,’ Trump said. ‘She’s making a big mistake. People are dying in Chicago and other cities and we can solve the problem. They have to ask us but we can solve the problem.’
Trump seemed to say the federal government was hamstrung unless local authorities asked for help – but then contradicted this. ‘At some point we may have no other choice but to go in,’ he threatened.
He struggled to explain why he had previously blamed President Barack Obama for violence in his hometown of Chicago when Obama was in office, but blamed local officials now that he was president.
‘President Obama he could have gone into Chicago, he could have solved the problem and he didn’t,’ Trump said.
‘These are the cities where you have the problem,’ Trump said, in remarks where he also singled out Philadelphia.
‘If you look at Chicago, if you look at Detroit … We are sending them help. But we are really waiting for them to call for the big help, for the big numbers, for the large numbers of people that we have ready willing and able,’ Trump said.
‘We are ready willing and able to go in there with great force,’ Trump said. ‘We also have people that are going in and arresting drug dealers, arresting some of the shooters that are doing the shooting, we know who they are.’
He added: ‘We are ready willing and able to go into these cities that are just being decimated by these shootings.’
Attorney General Bill Barr clarified Wednesday afternoon that the group will include Homeland Security Investigations units. Those agents have been involved in violent clashes in Portland. Protesters have complained they can’t see the agents’ insignia, and the cammo-wearing agents have been videotaped used unmarked vehicles to snatch bewildered suspects off the streets, infuriating fellow protesters.
Chad Wolf, the acting director of the Homeland Security Department, sought to stress the distinction between the two missions. In Chicago, the agents will help local authorities battle a spate of street violence that has ripped apart families and injured young children and bystanders.
‘In Chicago the mission is to protect the public from violent crime on the streets,’ said Wolf, who has not been confirmed by the Senate for his position.
Trump during remarks repeatedly tore into local officials, blaming them for violence in their cities.
‘When they abdicate their duty the results are catastrophic,’ the president said. He repeatedly connected violent crime to left-wing policies, as he faces a stiff challenge from Democrat Joe Biden amid protests over police violence and stresses his own ‘law and order’ platform.
‘What cities are doing is absolute insanity,’ Trump said, blasting calls to defund police departments. He decried a ‘rampage of violence.’
‘While others want to defund defame and abolish the police, I want to support and honor our great police. While the radicals want to abolish charter schools and eliminate school choice I want to expand school choice,’ Trump said.
Barr, who spoke separately and who was photographed with federal officers before they used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear protesters out of Lafayette Park in front of the White House, stressed differences between the new operation and the federal role in Portland.
‘These are street agents. They’re investigators. Working to solve murders and to take down the violent gangs,’ Barr said.
‘This is a different kind of operation obviously than the tactical teams we use to defend against riots and mob violence,’ he continued. ‘We’re going to continue to confront mob violence,’ Barr vowed.
The administration has relied on a legal justification related to protecting federal buildings for inserting Portland agents, who are opposed by local officials. The Chicago model is to be based on ‘Operation LeGend,’ which has already been used in Kansas City.
The operation is named after LeGend Taliferro, a four-year-old boy shot and killed in Kansas City, Missouri June 29.
Trump is expanding the operation by deploying FBI and other agents to Chicago and Albuquerque to quell what he claims is out of control violence.
Lightfoot offered some off-ramp to the tensions before the formal announcement, 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 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.