Justice Department officials dispute a report Wednesday in The New York Times that Attorney General William Barr asked federal prosecutors to find a way to bring criminal charges against Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (D) for allowing protesters to briefly set up a police-free zone east of downtown. But Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Thursday that the department has explored whether it can pursue criminal or civil rights charges against officials in Portland, Oregon, for weeks of protest-related violence.
Such charges "would likely present an uphill court battle for federal prosecutors," The Associated Press reports, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler shrugged off the threat as "ridiculous on its face." The Trump administration "has made the cynical decision that the suffering of others is politically beneficial, regardless of the cost," he said in a statement. "The people of this city — and throughout the nation — will not be intimidated."
Trump has made cracking down on protesters in "Democrat-run" cities and states a centerpiece of his re-election campaign, and Barr is leading the charge, reportedly urging prosecutors to charge anti-racism protesters with sedition. Federal charges have been filed against more than 100 people in Portland tied to the civil unrest downtown over the past few months.
"Trump has never seen himself as president of the United States," anti-Trump GOP strategist Stuart Stevens told the Times. "He's a gang leader, and you are either in his gang or you are the enemy." Trump "views and uses politics as a popularity contest, rewarding those he considers personally loyal to him," added David Lapan, a former senior official in Trump's Homeland Security Department. "This isn't high school, and lives are at stake, often with tragic results."
White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews said Thursday that Trump's policies "uplift all Americans" but claimed "it's no secret some Democrat-run states and cities have failed to create economic growth, secure their streets, or protect the most vulnerable against this virus."