Trump Threatens Baltimore; Raskin Says ‘States Appear Defenseless’

President Trump during an Oval Office address earlier this year. Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

Amid bipartisan criticism of his administration’s use of “secret police” and “paramilitary occupations” against Black Lives Matter protesters, President Trump pledged on Monday to send armed federal personnel into “Democrat cities” — including Baltimore.

Members of Maryland’s congressional delegation spent the day working to thwart the controversial use of unidentifiable federal police, which began in Portland, Ore., last week, drawing a swift rebuke from Oregon leaders and others.

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) co-sponsored legislation to curtail the use of unidentified federal officers and vehicles. And Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives — led by Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) — urged Attorney General William Barr on Monday to stop “secret police” tactics that they said violate the Constitution.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R), the outgoing head of the National Governors Association, has yet to address Trump’s announcement.

“We have yet to hear anything from [the Department of Homeland Security] or the feds regarding Baltimore,” Michael Ricci, a Hogan spokesman, said in an email.

There was no reaction from Baltimore’s outgoing mayor, Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D).

But Rep. Andrew P. Harris, the lone Republican in Maryland’s congressional delegation, stood with Trump on his action in Oregon.

“I am fully supportive of the President sending in sworn federal law enforcement officers to Portland to protect federal infrastructure, since the liberal mayor refuses to push back against the domestic terrorists Antifa and restore law and order,” Harris said in a statement relayed by his spokesman Tuesday.

The legislation offered by Van Hollen and Oregon’s senators, the “Preventing Authoritarian Policing Tactics on America’s Streets Act,” would block the administration from deploying federal forces “as a shadowy paramilitary against Americans.”

The legislation was introduced as a standalone bill and as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, the annual must-pass bill to fund the U.S. military.

The measure would:

  • Require individual and agency identification on uniforms of police officers and prevent unmarked vehicles from being used in arrests
  • Limit federal agents’ crowd control activities to federal property and its immediate vicinity, unless their presence is specifically requested by both the mayor and governor.
  • Require disclosure on an agency website within 24 hours of deployments specifying the number of personnel and purposes of deployment
  • Make arrests in violation of the new rules unlawful

In an interview, Van Hollen said Trump is “out of control.”

“It’s outrageous that we need to pass this legislation in the United States of America,” he said in an interview. “It’s outrageous that we’re in the position of having to rein in a president who is acting like a dictator of an authoritarian country.”

No Republicans have signed onto his meaure yet, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) “is a possibility,” Van Hollen said. In a tweet, Paul said “there is no place for federal troops or unidentified federal agents rounding people up at will.”

Another Van Hollen measure, cosponsored with Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), would block Trump from providing surplus military equipment, such as tanks and teargas, to local police.

Van Hollen said Hogan “should make it clear that he doesn’t want secret federal agents cracking down on peaceful protesters in Maryland’s cities and counties.”

On Tuesday, Raskin and other members of the House will send a letter to Barr urging him to call off the use of force, which leaders in Oregon neither requested not wanted.

The letter is a follow-up to a missive Raskin and 119 other lawmakers sent to Barr on June 4.

“It’s an outrageous assault on the Bill of Rights and the liberties of people,” he said in an interview on Monday.

“They’re not taking people based on probably cause. They’re not Mirandizing people. They are sweeping people off the street, and those are police state tactics.”

In interviews on Monday, Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf and Acting DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli defended the federal response.

“I don’t need invitations by the state, state mayors or state governors to do our job,” Wolf said on Fox News. “We’re going to do that whether they like us there or not.”

But Raskin, a constitutional scholar, said Trump’s use of “secret police” violated the Constitution.

“The federal government has limited police powers — and what it’s limited to is federal offenses, things like assaulting federal officers and crossing state lines with contraband,” he said.

“They are purporting to act on a statute which prohibits the vandalism or destruction of federal monuments and memorials, but their conduct obviously goes way beyond that.”

Over the weekend, news outlets showed video of law enforcement personnel grabbing people on the streets of Portland, shoving them into minivans and driving away. Like many cities, Portland has seen ongoing Black Lives Matter rallies calling for racial justice and a scaling back of police powers.

“We’ve seen footage of these unidentified officers driving around and picking people up off the streets and questioning them and haranguing them and harassing them and terrifying them,” Raskin said.

“Can you imagine if Barack Obama had sent out units of roving unidentified secret police into the states to beat up tea party protesters? Can you imagine if a Democratic president set up a personal paramilitary squad to override the judgments of governors and mayors and sweep protesters off the street? Our Republican colleagues would be burning the House down over that. Their silence today is deafening. Their complicity with Trump’s massive violation of the Bill of Rights and American federalism is an indelible stain on their careers.”

Raskin said Trump, who is trailing badly in recent polls testing his reelection against the presumptive Democratic frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, formulates policy on the fly, after watching cable news.

“The president watches Fox News and they play him like a fiddle. They lure him into particular kinds of situations and then he abuses the powers of his office to make a mockery out of our Constitution,” Raskin said.

“Right now, the states appear defenseless against the president’s willingness to break the law and trample the Constitution. And that’s why Congress has to act. We’re doing everything we can to try to to stop this runaway train.”

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