Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon suggested that President Trump is using riots in Portland as a “smokescreen” to declare martial law ahead of the November presidential election.
Wyden made the striking allegation during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Wednesday morning. The lawmaker was questioning Patrick Hovakimian, who Trump has nominated to be the next General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence pending Senate confirmation.
“My hometown of Portland has been invaded by militarized federal law enforcement. These federal forces are beating, teargassing, and detaining my neighbors. On Monday, Donald Trump promised to expand this invasion to other cities. If the line is not drawn in the sand right now, America may be staring down the barrel of martial law in the middle of a presidential election,” Wyden said.
During questioning, Wyden and Hovakimian argued about the nature of the protests in Portland and the steps federal law enforcement officials have taken amid the outbreak in violence.
The Department of Homeland Security dispatched agents to Portland last week to protect a federal courthouse and other federal property. Debates have erupted between elected officials in Oregon and the Trump administration over how far the federal government’s authority to crack down on violence in Portland extends.
“Where you have someone shooting off a commercial-grade firework and then running across the street, we don’t believe that that extends past our jurisdiction,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Tuesday, arguing that the federal government’s authority to arrest rioters does not necessarily end at the federal government’s property line.
In the Senate Intelligence Committee meeting, Hovakimian said he was committed to protecting protesters First Amendment rights, but would support the use of force against violent rioters and looters who have been damaging and destroying property in Portland for nearly two months.
“That’s not the issue,” Wyden said. “The issue is whether that is a smokescreen for a federal takeover for local authority and local law enforcement.”
Wyden asserted that the federal government’s action in Portland is “unconstitutional, and I believe they country needs government lawyers who aren’t going to use the law as a smokescreen to justify this unconstitutional invasion over the objections of local officials.”
Refering to reports of federal agents in unmarked vehicles arresting riot ringleaders, Wyden said, “These are practices that are going on now over the objection of local officials. … I consider these practices a massive invasion of the constitutional rights of my constituents. I think that these practices are essentially fascist practices that until recently would’ve been unthinkable in America.”
Wyden also claimed that the federal law enforcement officers were operating without identification, a claim that has been debunked by photographs of the law enforcement agents who wear badges identifying them with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. The federal agents stopped wearing badges that identified them by name after dozens were doxed by people who then threatened the agents and their families.
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