The Justice Department inspector general said Thursday that it would conduct a review of the conduct of federal agents who responded to unrest in Portland, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., following concerns from members of Congress and the public.
The watchdog investigation will examine use-of-force allegations in Portland, where the city's top federal prosecutor and mayor have publicly complained. In Washington, investigators will look at the training and instruction provided to the federal agents who responded to protest activity at Lafayette Square, near the White House.
Among the questions being studied are whether the agents followed Justice Department guidelines, including on identification requirements and in the deployment of chemical agents and use of force.
The investigation was announced amid ongoing chaos in Portland, where Mayor Ted Wheeler was tear-gassed by federal agents as he stood outside the courthouse there.
The New York Times reported Thursday that the Trump administration is sending a tactical team of Border Patrol agents to Seattle, expanding on the deployment in Portland that has sparked the justice department investigation.
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced he would send federal agents to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, to fight rising crime.
Attorney General William Barr earlier sought to separate the mission in Portland — to protect federal property — from the goal of stopping violent crime. Barr and Trump spoke only of plans in Chicago and Albuquerque, but the White House said in a later press release that the program would be expanded into Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee. Federal agents have already been sent to Kansas City, Missouri.
Chicago filed a lawsuit Thursday asking a judge to block the federal agents from interfering in or policing protests. In Oregon, the attorney general has sought a similar restraining order.
Local authorities in both Washington and Portland have complained that the presence of federal agents has exacerbated tensions on the streets, while residents have accused the government of violating their constitutional rights.
Civil unrest escalated in Portland after federal agents were accused of whisking people away in unmarked cars without probable cause. And in Washington, peaceful protesters were violently cleared from the streets by federal officers using tear gas.
The decision to dispatch federal agents to American cities is playing out at a hyperpoliticized moment when Trump is grasping for a new reelection strategy after the coronavirus upended the economy, dismantling what his campaign had seen as his ticket to a second term.
Trump has seized on a moment of spiking violence in some cities, claiming it will only rise if his Democratic rival Joe Biden is elected in November and Democrats have a chance to make the police reforms they have endorsed after the killing of George Floyd and nationwide protests demanding racial justice.
The federal response is likely to be a major topic of discussion next week when Attorney General William Barr appears before the House Judiciary Committee for a hearing.