Feds to begin Portland withdrawal

Hal Bernton The Seattle
Times (TNS)
People gather in protest in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in downtown Portland as the city experiences another night of unrest on July 28, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. For over 57 straight nights, protesters in downtown Portland have faced off in often violent clashes with the Portland Police Bureau and, more recently, federal officers. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday said that the federal government has agreed to a "phased withdrawal of federal officers" that have been deployed at the federal Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse in Portland amid nightly protests.

PORTLAND, Ore. - Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday said that the federal government has agreed to a "phased withdrawal of federal officers" who have been deployed at the federal Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse in Portland amid nightly protests.

Brown said the Oregon State Police will provide protection and security for the exterior of the courthouse, with the Federal Protective Service. Beginning Thursday, "all Customs and Border Protection and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers will leave downtown Portland, and shortly thereafter will be going home."

But a statement from acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf raised doubts about how soon that drawdown would take place. Wolf confirmed that a "joint plan" was reached over the past 24 hours with Brown, but he did not offer any timetable for the withdrawal.

Wolf said in a statement: "The 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 ... "

The agreement comes shortly after a Tuesday announcement by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee that a federal security detail deployed to Seattle had been withdrawn. It had been sent in to beef up security for federal buildings in Seattle amid recent protests, a move that was opposed by local and state officials.

The federal response in Portland has received harsh criticism for tactics that have included tremendous amounts of tear gas, firing of less-lethal rounds that have caused injuries to protesters, and beatings with batons. The nightly federal responses most often unfolded after protesters set fires, attempted to take fencing or shot off fireworks at the federal building.

The federal response has angered many Portlanders who see the response as serious overreach.

But the most aggressive actions by protesters have caused a divide within that movement. Critics include Black Lives Matter supporters who have sought - as recently as Tuesday night - to put out arson fires.

Brown, in a Wednesday statement, said that she had "grown increasingly concerned" with the nightly confrontations between federal officers and protesters.

"We need to recognize that the protests in Portland are not solely about the federal presence," Brown said. "They started before federal agents descended on our city and they will likely continue after they leave."

Brown accused the federal officers of acting as "an occupying force, refused accountability, and brought violence and strife to our community."

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler had called for "cease-fire" negotiations, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., expressed skepticism about the agreement.

"I'm especially concerned there's no specific timeline for a full withdrawal of (U.S. Attorney General) Bill Barr and Donald Trump's minions. That's a loophole big enough to drive an armored personnel carrier through," Wyden tweeted.

Wyden said he would "watchdog today's announcement to ensure that it happens, and is not the administration's usual penchant for fiction."

Wolf, in his statement, praised the federal law enforcement efforts.

"This plan is possible due to the valiant efforts of the DHS law enforcement officers protecting federal property in Portland from violent activity for the past two months."

He said President Donald Trump will partner with state and local law enforcement but warned that the Trump administration will continue to "fulfill its solemn obligation to uphold federal law across the country."