Trump: We're going to "surge" federal officers into Chicago and Albuquerque

Sounds like the new mission’s off to a great start!

No, actually, that tweet is misleading (sort of). She meant it when she wrote it last night, but she’s since received assurances that the operation in Chicago will look different from the fiasco playing out in Portland. For starters, this will be a DOJ initiative, not DHS. Bill Barr himself was eager to note the contrast in comments today:

“This is a different operation obviously from the tactical teams that we use to defend against riots and mob violence, and we’re going to continue to confront mob violence,” he said. “But the operations we’re discussing today are very different. They are classic crime fighting.”

My initial question when I heard about the Chicago “surge” was by what authority are the feds sending federal agents to do “classic crime fighting” there for offenses like gun violence that would normally be left to the state to police? “No statute authorizes federal law enforcement officers to generally restore order,” noted law prof Steve Vladeck on Twitter. “Throughout our history, the military—including today’s National Guard—has been the federal actor in such cases. That Trump isn’t using it underscores that this isn’t *really* about restoring order.” The reason for sending DHS to Portland, ostensibly, is so that they can safeguard federal property being threatened by vandals, but that’s not the reason in Chicago. Unless the members of the FBI, ATF, DEA, U.S. Marshals, and other agencies are being deployed to enforce federal law, they have no right to police there.

…unless they’re there by the invitation of the state. Which, Lightfoot’s tweet notwithstanding, appears to be the case. Lightfoot sent Trump a letter two days ago stating that she’d welcome federal help provided that they really do intend to partner with Chicago PD and not stage some quasi-militarized campaign commercial for the president, as appears to be happening in Portland right now. Here’s what she wrote:

What finally sold her on the idea, reportedly, was a chat she had with the local U.S. Attorney, who promised her everything would be above board: “She changed her tone after talking with U.S. Attorney John Lausch, a former colleague who she has said she respects and admires, who assured her an influx of law enforcement would be working ‘collaboratively’ with Chicago cops against violent crime, and not confronting protesters.” The superintendent of the Chicago PD told reporters he’d welcome earnest help from the feds as well. Said Lightfoot afterward, “We welcome actual partnership, but we do not welcome dictatorship. We do not welcome authoritarianism.”

We’ll see what she gets. The feds aren’t going to end gang violence in Chicago, needless to say, so there’s some political risk to Trump here if there’s no change in the crime rate there before November or if the rate actually goes up. It’ll be used by Democrats as further evidence that the “law and order president” is ineffectual at best and an agent of further chaos at worst. There’s also a risk that the new federal presence, even if it’s by the book, will become a target for protesters and end up becoming a pretext for mass demonstrations — which, per Portland, may be fine as far as Trump is concerned. The point of this exercise is to brand himself as the defender of civil society against mobs, so if mobs start forming in Chicago, so much the better. Again, though, he runs the risk of being seen as an instigator of conflict rather than as a solver of it. If we end up in Chicago with camouflaged DHS agents swinging batons at vandals, Lightfoot will say that they didn’t have that sort of problem until Trump and his team swooped in to “help” them with their gun problem. What’ll he say back?

Hopefully the feds will do some low-key good and Trump will have a talking point he can use with black voters, that he cares more about crime in their neighborhoods than bleeding-heart liberals do. And hopefully someone in the White House will get around to regularizing the operation in Portland, which is alarming and demoralizing even to some DHS employees and which has former DHS chief (and Republican) Tom Ridge analogizing the paramilitary agents to “the president’s personal militia.”

Here’s Trump announcing the operation today. In lieu of an exit question, go read Jonathan Last on a law-and-order mailing the Trump campaign just sent out to supporters. To show how violent left-wing protesters have gotten with police, it uses an image of … Ukrainians stomping on a Ukrainian cop. Pro-democracy Ukrainians, I should say, who were resisting the goon-squad security forces of Putin puppet Viktor Yanukovych. He was ousted as president by the Ukrainian legislature and later charged with treason. (He and Trump also have a certain former advisor in common.) Is it so hard to find photos of actual Antifa behaving violently that they had to repurpose a pic of foreigners standing up to Putin to depict chaotic evil?