Working with an interagency intelligence committee, Huston put together a plan filled with options designed to restrain the domestic threat so feared by Nixon.
The Huston Plan, with its extreme proposed actions against dissident groups, went too far even for FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who had overseen a lot of intrusive and shady operations by his own agents. Hoover prevailed upon Attorney General John Mitchell to talk Nixon out of signing the plan, which had been orally approved. The Huston Plan, however, had a role in impeachment proceedings against Nixon because it was evidence of the president’s abuse of his authority and misuse of executive agencies.
But, President Trump, unlike Nixon, is not just talking about getting the federal government into the streets. He’s doing it.
Under the banner of restoring safety and peace in U.S. cities, Trump has launched Operation Legend, which extends a federal interagency law-enforcement effort led by the Justice Department to fighting crimes in local jurisdictions.
His stated purpose: “to quell the unacceptable levels of recent violence in U.S. cities.”
Operation Legend, an Attorney General William P. Barr project, differs from the federal intervention taking place in the streets of Portland, Ore. The Portland federal deployment, Barr said this week, was Washington’s response to civil unrest.
That deployment hasn’t gone too well. Instead of praise, it has prompted great outrage among Oregon lawmakers, especially Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, the state’s two Democratic senators. They formally requested that the inspectors general of the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security conduct an investigation. Merkley and Wyden called the deployment “unrequested” and accused the deployed federal forces of engaging in “violent actions” in the city.
In defense of the deployment, federal officials said the federal courthouse in Portland required protection from protesters who were hurling projectiles and trying to set the building on fire.
But that hasn’t stopped local officials far beyond Oregon from echoing their own worries stemming from the images of federal action in Portland. This week, a group of 15 local leaders, including D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), was concerned enough to send a letter to Barr and acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf telling them that the deployment of federal forces to cities was “unprecedented and violates fundamental constitutional protections and tenets of federalism.” New York City’s top lawyer said if federal troops or law enforcement are deployed unrequested, “we will fight it in court.”
Mayor Tim Keller (D) of Albuquerque voiced the suspicions of many. He said in a statement that he welcomed “partnerships in constitutional crime fighting . . . but we won’t sell out our city for a bait and switch excuse to send secret police to Albuquerque. Operation Legend is not real crime fighting.”
Tom Ridge, former two-term Republican governor of Pennsylvania and the first homeland security secretary, put it bluntly: “It would be a cold day in hell before I would consent to a unilateral, uninvited intervention in one of my cities.”
A key difference between now and before: In 1970, the attorney general was urging restraint. Today, the AG leads the charge. Barr is rolling out federal deployments to other U.S. cities where, according to Trump, “the job of policing a neighborhood” is being abdicated.
Trump couches federal deployment in terms of fighting “radical” movements and “anti-police” crusades and defeating “the effort to shut down policing.” Militarized U.S. officers roving the streets are not a welcoming sight to many citizens and their local leaders. Neither is Barr’s behavior.
It is no small matter that 27 D.C. lawyers, including four D.C. Bar former presidents, have filed a complaint with the Bar asking the discipline office to investigate Barr’s alleged ethical violations. Among them:
“Unconstitutionally ordering, overseeing and supporting the forcible dispersal of constitutionally protected peaceful protests at Lafayette Square.” Barr, they charge, “unethically represented Mr. Trump’s personal interests in a ‘photo op’ rather than carrying out his ethical duty to represent his client — the people of the United States — to protect their fundamental interest in their constitutional rights.”
With federal agents caught on camera clubbing protesters and stuffing them into unmarked vehicles, whom is the U.S. attorney general representing in Portland?
Missing in 2020 is a Congress filled with the quality and intestinal fortitude of the lawmakers who, during Watergate, demonstrated their conviction that a president’s place is behind the Constitution, not beyond it.
Correction: America, this is nothing like Nixon’s Washington.
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