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Justice Dept. targets Portland, New York and Seattle over protests

Following a week of heavy tensions between police and protesters in Seattle, CHOP was formed in the summer of 2020. (Video: The Washington Post)
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The Justice Department on Monday labeled the cities of Portland, Ore., New York and Seattle as jurisdictions “that have permitted violence and destruction of property,” targeting them for possible cuts in federal funding.

Following a memorandum that President Trump issued this month, the Justice Department published a list of cities where the White House wants to get more aggressive on civil unrest after police shootings and killings.

“We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted,” Attorney General William P. Barr said in a statement. “It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens.”

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The Trump administration was unsuccessful in a similar funding-cut move against New York and other cities over their immigration policies. A federal appeals court ruled that the move violated the separation of powers spelled out in the Constitution.

The three cities the Justice Department identified are the same ones listed in the president’s original memorandum. As clashes have continued for months between protesters and police, local officials have accused the federal government of worsening tensions in their cities by calling for a crackdown and, in the case of Portland, sending heavily armed federal agents to quell street clashes.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan — all Democrats — fired back in a joint statement, saying Trump “is playing cheap political games with Congressionally directed funds. . . . What the Trump Administration is engaging in now is more of what we’ve seen all along: shirking responsibility and placing blame elsewhere to cover its failure.”

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The president’s Sept. 2 memo also criticized D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), saying she allowed “rioters and anarchists to engage in violence and destruction.” But the nation’s capital was not on the list issued Monday.

The Trump administration said it is considering adding other cities, if officials withdraw officers from policing problem areas, or if a city leader “disempowers or defunds” police departments or “unreasonably refuses” to accept law enforcement assistance from the federal government. The Justice Department may also add cities to the list based on “any other related factors the Attorney General deems appropriate,” the department said in its announcement.

The naming of the three cities marks the latest effort by the administration to force cities to take tougher action against unruly protests.

In recent weeks, Barr has urged federal prosecutors to aggressively pursue cases against those committing violence amid the protests. In a conference call with prosecutors, he suggested that they consider parts of a rarely used law against sedition, if they find evidence matching the law’s language criminalizing the use of force to oppose the government.