CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — According to anonymous sources, Attorney General William Barr spoke to federal prosecutors across the country in a call last week and told them to explore filing federal charges against protesters who incited violence during demonstrations.
The Justice Department also explored pursuing either criminal or civil rights charges against officials in Portland, Oregon who did not prevent riots and property damage during recent demonstrations, according to a department spokesperson.
Portland has seen nearly three months of protests and clashes between law enforcement and demonstrators. The police department declared about a quarter of them riots.
Federal officials were told that Portland police officers were explicitly told not to respond to the federal courthouse, as hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside, some throwing rocks and other projectiles at officers and not to assist federal officers who were sent into the city.
DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec said the department had done research on whether it could pursue the charges, but declined to comment on the status, or whether charges would be brought.
Portland Mayor Timothy Wheeler provided NewsNation with the following response:
“The President and his appointees refuse to take accountability for their role in escalating tension and violence, just as they refuse to take action to protect Americans from Covid-19 and climate change. This kind of divisive rhetoric, which has become the hallmark of the Trump administration, is distracting the President from providing the kind of focused and thoughtful leadership our nation needs during this time of crisis.”
DOJ officials have disputed that Barr told prosecutors in the department’s civil rights division to explore whether they could bring charges against Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan for allowing a protest zone this summer.
That zone was the scene of almost daily confrontations between officers and protesters, including two fatal shootings.
Durkan provided NewsNation with the following response:
“Ultimately, this is not a story about me. It is about how this President and his Attorney General are willing to subvert the law and use the Department of Justice for political purposes. It is particularly egregious to try to use the civil rights laws to investigate, intimidate, or deter those that are fighting for civil rights in our country.”
According to anonymous sources, Barr instructed federal prosecutors across the country in a private call to go after demonstrators who cause violence — pushing them to bring federal charges whenever they could — even if a defendant could be tried in a state court.
In the call, Barr raised the rarely-used sedition statute. Sedition refers to the act of inciting revolt or violence against a lawful authority with the goal of destroying or overthrowing it.
President Donald Trump’s enforcement has already led to more than 300 arrests on federal crimes from protests since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis — a third of those were in Portland.
The FBI said it is shifting the agency’s resources to focus heavily on federal crimes committed during the protests.
Also today, Attorney General William Barr received criticism for remarks at an event hosted by Hillsdale College Wednesday.
Barr said “Putting a National lockdown, stay at home orders, is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American History.”