AP featured image
Federal agents use crowd control munitions to disperse Black Lives Matter protesters at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on Monday, July 20, 2020, in Portland, Ore. Officers used teargas and projectiles to move the crowd after some protesters tore down a fence fronting the courthouse. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

 

Reports surfaced on Tuesday of talks underway between Oregon Governor Kate Brown and officials of the Trump Administration according to Oregon Public Broadcasting’s online news site.

The terms of the deal are still to be determined but the rough outline seems to involve an agreement to remove the additional federal agents sent to Portland in exchange for an agreement by the State of Oregon to provide security for the Federal Courthouse with Oregon State law enforcement.  This would be an agreement that, by implication, puts the problems of rioting in downtown Portland around the federal building at the feet of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler.  His refusal to have the situation dealt with by the Portland Police Department led to the necessity of the Trump Administration’s decision to send in additional federal resources to supplement the federal agents assigned to work in Portland in order to secure the federal properties in downtown Portland.

While not providing any details, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, Nik Blosser, confirmed that talks had begun on Monday, and intensified on Tuesday.

OPB identified two senior federal law enforcement officials as having traveled to Portland to handle the talks — FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich, and DHS Undersecretary for Management Rudolph Alles.  OPB reports that Bowdich returned to Washington on Tuesday night in order to brief FBI Dir. Christopher Wray and Attorney General Bill Barr on Wednesday.

Face-to-face meetings and a potential deal to reduce federal presence in Portland represents a notable shift for local officials. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said he would have declined meeting with acting DHS secretary Chad Wolf during a July 16 visit to Portland. And until this week, state and federal lawmakers from Oregon had largely restricted their conversations to sharply worded letters and barbs via social media. President Trump has responded in kind by blasting local leaders on Twitter.

I don’ think there is any way to read this other than a capitulation on the part of the state and local officials, understanding that the nightly violence cannot continue.  I’m certain that one of the reasons for FBI Dep. Dir. Bowdich’s appearance was to reinforce the point that the rioters are engaged in federal criminal activity, and the FBI and other agencies are going to continue filling Portland’s jails and indicting more and more protesters in federal court.  DOJ has announced 40 such arrests and charges in the past 4 days.  The federal law enforcement agents on site are acting with increased aggressiveness in responding to provocations by the rioters, and the FBI is certainly using all its available resources to build much larger cases targeting the leadership of the protest organizations.  As long as the riots are allowed to be staged on the streets surrounding the courthouse, the confrontations, arrests, and prosecutions will continue.  The only way to break the cycle is for the state and local agencies to prevent the riot organizers from making use of the staging areas in locations close to the courthouse but no on federal property.  It seems like the Governor is coming to understand that is the only way to break the stalemate.

Barr’s comments Tuesday underscored a consistent message the Trump administration has offered about the situation in Portland: That it is not willing to leave the federal courthouse and a nearby federal office building unprotected.

“It is not a solution to tell federal officers to leave, when there continues to be attacks on federal property and personnel,” Williams, the U.S. attorney in Oregon, said during a press briefing this week. “We’re not leaving the building unprotected to be destroyed by people intent on doing so.”

Events on Tuesday night were not much different than events over the past 10 days, but it seems like several regular suppliers of video highlights of the night time festivities opted to take a day off on Tuesday, and video highlights are a bit in short supply.