Citing crime, Trump expands sending federal agents to cities over mayors' opposition

Trump is set to announce the expansion to Chicago and Albuquerque Wednesday.

July 22, 2020, 5:37 PM

President Donald Trump described "bloodshed" across America as he announced the expansion of "Operation Legend," saying he has "no choice" but to "surge" federal law enforcement into American cities to fight violent crime.

"Today I am announcing a surge of federal law enforcement into American communities plagued by violent crime," Trump said Wednesday in the East Room of the White House in a move closely tied to his reelection campaign. "We will work every single day to restore public safety, protect our nation's children, and bring violent perpetrators to justice. We have been doing it, and you have been seeing what is happening all around the country. We've just started this process, and frankly we have no choice but to get involved."

"Operation Legend," first announced earlier this month by Attorney General Bill Barr in an exclusive interview with ABC News, is said to be aimed at sending federal resources to cities seeing increases in violent crime even though mayors of many of those cities oppose the move.

A combination of agents from the FBI, DEA and ATF will be sent to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, to work with and bolster the already existing federal presence in both cities and assist with investigations of illegal gun sales and other federal crimes, Trump said.

"No mother should ever have to cradle her dead child in her arms simply because politicians refused to do what is necessary to secure their neighborhood and to secure their city," Trump said of Chicago.

He went on to say that other cities will also see a surge in federal law enforcement and he claimed that local officials are "too proud" or "too political" to ask for help.

"Under 'Operation Legend,' we will also soon send federal law enforcement to other cities that need help," Trump said. "Other cities need help. They need it badly. They should call. They should want it. They're too proud or they're too political to do that."

A separate government official told ABC News that roughly 125 to 150 agents will be deployed to the Chicago area.

Trump has long criticized the city and its leaders for repeated shocking shootings and the city saw 14 people shot in a single incident Tuesday.

The expansion of federal resources will largely mirror the Justice Department's launch of the initiative two weeks ago in Kansas City, Missouri, where it has sent in roughly 200 FBI, ATF and DEA agents into the city after a request from the state's governor.

The Justice Department says "Operation Legend" is named after four-year-old LeGend Taliferro, a Black child shot and killed while he slept June 29 in Kansas City, which the department said has seen a 40% increase in homicides over last year.

President Donald Trump speaks about legislation for additional coronavirus aid in the Oval Office at the White House, July 20, 2020.
Leah Millis/Reuters

Trump ramps up talk on 'violent cities'

Since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and the nationwide protests that followed, Trump has stepped up his political rhetoric on what he calls "out of control" cities run by "liberal Democrats" -- including Chicago, New York and Baltimore.

"I'm gonna do something -- that I can tell you," Trump told reporters Monday in the Oval Office. "Because we're not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these --Oakland is a mess. We're not going to let this happen in our country."

Trump has characterized himself as the "law and order" president sending out several tweets in all-caps with a political message that Republicans have tried to own. Last month, in a call with governors, Trump repeatedly urged local police and the military to "dominate" the streets in response to the unrest nationwide over Floyd's death.

Used to attack his political opponents and distract from the pandemic, Trump and White House officials have zeroed in on the law enforcement initiative to help reignite support that has wavered due to the president's perceived lack of leadership on the coronavirus response.

"Look at what's going on -- all run by Democrats, all run by very liberal Democrats. All run, really, by radical left," Trump said.

He added, "If (Joe) Biden got in, that would be true for the country. The whole country would go to hell. And we're not going to let it go to hell."

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has specifically targeted Chicago, calling Democratic Mayor Lori Lightfoot earlier this month "the derelict mayor of Chicago" who needs to "step up" to do more to keep the city safe.

Despite the president's recent rhetoric on the uptick in violent crime across the country, data from the FBI show that many major cities are actually doing better on crime than they were decades ago.

Mayors see Portland as cautionary tale

In many of the cities Trump has called out, including Chicago, New York and Baltimore, local leaders say they have sought assistance from the federal government for years to address the violence tearing at their communities.

In 2017, for example, Chicago police teamed up with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives to create a joint strike force aimed at cutting the number of guns reaching criminals in the city.

Just this past weekend 63 people were shot in Chicago, 12 of them fatally.

However, as local leaders have seen what has happened as federal agents clash with protesters in Portland, Oregon, many are speaking out against "Operation Legend," saying they don't want their cities used for Trump's political purposes.

The controversial deployment of militarized agents by the Department of Homeland Security in Portland is separate from the Justice Department law enforcement expansion announced by the White House Wednesday and it's not expected those agents would be used against protesters.

But Democratic mayors across the country have spoken out against the tactics being used by the federal government in Portland, saying that they do not want or need unidentified federal officers dressed in camouflage battling with protesters.

"The deployment of unnamed special secret agents onto our streets to detain people without cause and to effectively take away their civil rights and civil liberties without due process -- that is not going to happen in Chicago," Lightfoot said at a news conference on Tuesday.

In a letter to Barr and DHS acting Secretary Chad Wolf, the mayors of six major cities and 15 total demanded an end to the tactics used by federal agents in Portland.

"These forces are conducting law enforcement activities without coordination or authorization of local law enforcement officials," the letter read. "The unilateral deployment of these forces into American cities is unprecedented and violates fundamental constitutional protections and tenets of federalism."

Portland, Oregon, Mayor Ted Wheeler signed the letter, along with Chicago's Lightfoot, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Quinton D. Lucas.

Trump has praised the federal government's response.

"In Portland, they've done a fantastic job," Trump said. "They've been there three days and they really have done a fantastic job in a short period of time. No problem."

In response to the letter, White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said, "President Trump has taken an unprecedented approach to communicating and working with our Nation's governors and mayors to guarantee they have the resources they need and the ability to make the best on-the-ground decisions, but he has not backed away from exposing these officials for their inaction, not based on partisanship but because it's right thing to do."

The most fundamental responsibility of elected officials at every level of government is keeping our citizens safe while respecting their Constitutional rights. President Trump has made clear that if state and local officials do not meet this sacred responsibility, he will take action to protect our citizens and ensure safe, healthy communities," he said in a statement.

The president Wednesday made sure to note that we should "never forget" that the job of policing neighborhoods falls on "local elected leadership."

"But we must remember that the job of policing a neighborhood falls on the shoulders of local elected leadership," Trump said. "Never forget that. When they abdicate their duty, the results are catastrophic. Americans must hold their city leaders accountable. They must insist that community officials fully support, fully back, and fully fund their local police departments. There is simply no substitute for a police department that has the strong backing of city leaders."

ABC News' Alexander Mallin and Luke Barr contributed to this report

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