Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday that the federal government had agreed to withdraw its law enforcement officers from Portland, where violent protests have persisted for weeks — but the Department of Homeland Security indicated it would keep its officers on the ground for the time being.
The dueling statements were another twist in the increasingly fractious communications between local and federal officials about the violence in Portland.
In a series of tweets Wednesday morning, Brown said that the Trump administration had “agreed to withdraw federal officers from Portland” starting Thursday and that security of downtown would be left to “our local Oregon State Police officers.”
But in a statement issued around the same time, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said his department “will continue to maintain our current, augmented federal law enforcement personnel in Portland until we are assured that the Hatfield Federal Courthouse and other federal properties will no longer be attacked and that the seat of justice in Portland will remain secure.”
“The Department will continue to re-evaluate our security posture in Portland, and should circumstances on the ground significantly improve due to the influx of state and local law enforcement, we anticipate the ability to change our force posture,” Wolf added.
At the same time, Wolf also said in the statement that he and Brown had agreed to a plan to end the violence in Portland that “includes a robust presence of Oregon State Police in downtown Portland.”
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Wolf said, “We don’t want to say we’re leaving and then have the criminals attack the courthouse again.”
He said the breakthrough in achieving the agreement was that “the governor reached out.”
“That’s what changed,” he said. “I’m glad that she changed her mind. I am glad that Portland has agreed to be a responsible city.”
Asked later to clarify the deal that had been reached, Wolf told NBC News that “the federal government has agreed to a phased withdrawal of federal officers from Portland beginning Thursday.”
Speaking to MSNBC’s Ali Velshi on Wednesday night, Brown said that officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement would begin leaving Thursday afternoon.
The agents will be replaced with state troopers who she said “will be keeping the peace, ensuring that Oregonians can exercise their right to free speech.”
Brown said earlier that “a limited contingent” of federal officials will remain at the courthouse to guard its interior.
Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary, Devin O’Malley, responded to Brown’s original tweet, saying the vice president had told her that “federal law enforcement will remain in Portland until violence directed toward them & the federal courthouse is brought to an end by state & local authorities. @VP was very clear that law & order must be restored in PDX,” O’Malley said.
President Donald Trump claimed on Twitter earlier that Portland would have been “burned and beaten to the ground” without the presence of federal officers, and he vowed to have the “federal government go in and do the job” if “the Mayor and Governor do not stop the Crime and Violence.”
Protests in Portland have been going on for two months, but the situation intensified when federal agents — from the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Marshals Service — were deployed beginning the weekend of July 4.
Since then, agents have used tear gas and pepper spray and have shot “less lethal” munitions, at times indiscriminately, into crowds. The city had its largest turnout of the protests last weekend as around 5,000 people gathered in front of and around the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, which has been heavily guarded by federal agents.
As of Wednesday, at least 114 federal officers were known to be in the city, according to a court filing by the government.
The Trump administration deployed the unsolicited federal response to counter demonstrations and protests decrying police brutality in the wake of the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police.
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The agents, many wearing dark patches making them difficult to identify which agency they were with, were accused of overly abusive action against the demonstrators, according to a lawsuit several nonprofit organizations, including Protect Democracy, Don’t Shoot Portland and Wall of Moms, filed on behalf of protesters Monday.
The presence of federal agents has been heavily criticized not only by the protesters but also by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who has repeatedly asked Trump to remove them.