On Sean Hannity’s show on Thursday night, President Trump made a startling claim: He said that the mayor of Seattle acted to close down the protests in her city only because she had been privately warned that if she didn’t, Trump would act himself.

“We were going in,” Trump told Hannity, suggesting he or someone close to him had alerted the mayor of impending action, perhaps military, of some kind: “We let them know that."

But in an interview with us, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan flatly denied that any conversation like this with Trump — or anyone around him — ever took place.

“It just never happened,” Durkan told us. “I don’t know what world he’s living in.”

After weeks of demonstrations in Seattle in a zone that protesters had carved out with the acquiescence of police and local officials — events that became a major cause on Fox News — the Seattle police cleared the area on July 1.

On his show, Hannity told Trump that his reporting indicated that the Seattle mayor acted only after receiving “notice” that Trump would. Trump confirmed this, and went a good deal further. Here’s the exchange:

HANNITY: I had a source that told me, I was not able to confirm it, that one of the reasons that the Seattle mayor finally acted, is that they were given notice that if they didn’t act, that you were going to. Is there any truth to that?
TRUMP: A hundred percent. We were going in, we were going in very soon. We let them know that. And they, all of a sudden, they didn’t want that, so they went in before we got there. But we were going in very shortly, very soon, and we would have taken the CHOP I call it, CHOP, we would have taken it back very easily. But they went in, and frankly the people just gave up. They were tired. They had it for a long period of time. But because of the fact that we were going to go in.

Durkan told us that this is false on every level.

“He never contacted me or my office to warn us,” Durkan said, adding that no one from the White House and no one connected to Trump had told them any such thing.

“We had no conversations whatsoever with the White House about anything related to the protests, Capitol Hill, or anything along these lines,” Durkan told us, though conversations related to the coronavirus had taken place at various junctures.

Capitol Hill is where the protesters had carved out their zone, which has been alternately referred to as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone and the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP, as Trump called it.

“I think the president’s statements are so chilling on two levels,” Durkan, a Democrat, told us. She said that at a minimum, Trump’s remarks seemed to confirm that he had authorized such an action — whether anyone had actually communicated it.

This would mean that “just months before a contested election, the president of the United States is authorizing federal forces to go into an American city,” Durkan told us. “If it’s not true, it’s chilling on another level — that he would make that up and think it would be okay.”

Trump’s claim that “we were going in soon” and “we let them know that” and “they went in before we got there” does straightforwardly show the president indicating a specific and decided-upon plan to go in that was actually communicated privately to the Seattle mayor’s office.

Trump had publicly made such threats. Early on, he tweeted that state and city officials must “Take back your city NOW,” adding: “If you don’t do it, I will." Trump apparently deleted the tweet.

It’s possible Trump thought that he was referring to his own public statements in confirming Seattle had been warned. But Trump explicitly confirmed to Hannity in several different ways Hannity’s claim that this threat had been specified privately, based upon an actual plan to go in — and Hannity himself treated this as new information.

“When the president goes on national TV and says he was ready to go in and was looking forward to it, that means he’s already made a decision,” Durkan told us.

The area around the East Precinct had originally been ceded by police to protesters on June 8, after a week of demonstrations and tense interactions between police and protesters. Protesters closed off the area.

At first, it sometimes resembled a giant block party. But over time, things got more chaotic, leading to more calls to close the zone down.

The mayor’s office says they made various efforts to appeal directly to protest leaders, and to send in community leaders as intermediaries — which worked to some degree, but only partly, as some harder-core factions remained.

After the shooting death of a teenager in mid-June, and after a shooting on June 29 left a 16-year-old dead and a 14-year-old severely injured — which further amplified calls for a crackdown — the mayor signed an executive order on June 30 to formally close the area.

And on July 1, the police moved back in to do so.

Durkan categorically rejected any suggestion that this was related to anything Trump or anyone around him communicated — privately or publicly. Her office told us that serious conversations between the mayor’s office and the police chief and community groups about ending the protests began around June 22.

When efforts to appeal to the protesters to leave the zone were “not successful and there was increased violence,” Durkan told us, “we made the decision to shut it down.”

"But that was done with great planning over many many days," Durkan said.

Durkan certainly came under criticism over the whole affair. As the Seattle Times wrote: “It should not have taken deadly violence to know this standoff was untenable."

Pressed on such criticism, Durkan insisted it was a complicated situation and that she had tried to get the balance right through conversations with many different agencies and local community groups.

“We worked very hard to balance the First Amendment rights of protesters to gather and raise their voices for change with the need for public safety,” Durkan told us.

But Durkan stressed that Trump’s public threats had made things worse. “There was great concern that there would be some actions by very conservative supporters of the president,” Durkan said.

And Durkan asserted that it was highly problematic for Trump to make such a claim on national television about such a private threat, even if it never happened.

“Congress should investigate whether there was actually a plan to send federal forces into an American city," Durkan said.

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