Trump administration has taken a 'belligerent, aggressive tone' with Oregon officials: Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff

Administration officials have defended their use of federal agents in Portland.

July 22, 2020, 3:38 PM

Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, a Republican, says the Trump administration has taken a "very belligerent, aggressive tone" toward local officials and suggests the Department of Homeland Security may be exceeding its authority by deploying federal law enforcement officials to the streets of Portland, Oregon.

"You can protect federal property, but that doesn't mean it's an unlimited license to roam around the streets and pick up people based on some suspicion that maybe they’re involved or gonna be involved in something," Chertoff told ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast.

"But, the reports that I read about roving around on the street and stopping people and taking them down, strike me as going beyond that authority," Chertoff told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Political Director Rick Klein.

Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said at a press conference on Tuesday that federal agents were properly trained and well within their authority.

"We are not patrolling the streets of Portland, as has been falsely reported," Morgan said.

Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf, at that same press conference, said he's urged state and local officials to call him to work on a solution.

"I talked to the mayor and the governor, I gave them my number, told them to certainly reach out to me if they needed anything from the federal government, again to bring this to a close," Wolf said. "My phone is operating and working."

Wolf said that 43 people have been arrested since the Fourth of July.

PHOTO: Michael Chertoff, Executive Chairman and Co-Founder of The Chertoff Group, speaks onstage during the 2019 Concordia Annual Summit, Sept. 23, 2019, in New York City.
Michael Chertoff, Executive Chairman and Co-Founder of The Chertoff Group, speaks onstage during the 2019 Concordia Annual Summit, Sept. 23, 2019, in New York City.
Riccardo Savi/Getty Images, FILE

Now chairman of the Chertoff Group -- a security and cybersecurity risk management firm -- Chertoff raised questions about what exactly the probable cause statue is to arrest an individual on the street.

"Whatever the statutory authority is, we still have a Constitution and that requires reasonable suspicion to stop somebody -- probable cause to arrest them," he explained. "And it's not clear to me that that is being applied in this case."

Chertoff said that one of the problems of the operation is who DHS sent to patrol the streets.

"The problem is you've got agents here who are, for the most part, Customs and Border Protection tactical property," he explained. "They operate normally in a border environment, which is where you're dealing with an almost quasi-military situation. That does not translate well into an urban environment with First Amendment protected demonstrators. And so the execution of this, I think has been a real problem."

The former DHS secretary under President George W. Bush also raised the alarm about securing the nation’s upcoming election. Earlier this week, Chertoff and 33 other former national security officials urged Congress to fund election security measures in the next round of COVID-19 funding.

“We don't have a lot of time left,” Chertoff explained. “And so getting the money to state and locals to do this properly, to my mind, is the most urgent task the federal government has right now. Because if we can't defend the right to vote, then we're not defending American values.

He also urged local cities and towns, who are primarily responsible for carrying out elections, to prepare for voting during a pandemic.

Chertoff also dispelled the notion that mail-in-voting is susceptible to widespread voter fraud, as the President and Attorney General suggested.

“There is zero evidence that mail in voting creates widespread problems in an election,” he said. “It's not of the scale that could possibly impact on a national election. So there is zero evidence for this.”

Powerhouse Politics podcast is a weekly program that posts every Wednesday, and includes headliner interviews and in-depth looks at the people and events shaping U.S. politics. Powerhouse Politics podcast is hosted by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and ABC News Political Director Rick Klein.

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