GOP Senators Fear Trump Use of 'Secret Police' Is Unconstitutional: Merkley

Republican senators have been expressing concerns over the Trump administration's decision to deploy federal law enforcement officers to Portland, with some fearing the deployment could be "unconstitutional," Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley has said.

Speaking with Newsweek on Tuesday, Merkley said he had spoken to "several Republican colleagues who are very opposed to the secret police strategy of the administration."

Among the concerns expressed by GOP senators, Merkley said, are fears that the deployment represents "a massive overreach of federal power" that is "potentially unconstitutional."

Pointing to recent incidents of protesters being forced into unmarked vans by federal officers, as well as one incident that saw a protester shot in the head with what was believed to be an impact munition, Merkley said Republicans are concerned that the Trump administration has been deploying a "potentially unconstitutional strategy of arrests that violate people's civil liberties."

Further, he said, GOP Senate members have expressed concerns that the deployment has pushed America further towards the "adoption of a dictator style" of law enforcement.

That is a fear that Merkley shares in, with the Oregon senator telling Newsweek he believes the deployment has seen the use of similar tactics typically deployed under dictatorships.

"When I consider how this developed, you've got [President Donald Trump,] who loves to talk about his affection for dictators around the world... [Kim Jong-un] of North Korea, [Vladimir Putin] of Russia, [Rodrigo Duterte] of the Philippines… They use these kinds of tactics of secret police sweeping people off the streets and he's brought it to America. President Trump has brought these fascist tactics to America and they have to end," Merkley said.

While Democrats have increasingly been describing federal law enforcement officers deployed to Portland in response to unrest in the wake of George Floyd's death as "secret police," Trump administration officials have pushed back against the descriptor, with Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf insisting on Tuesday that law enforcement personnel are simply "civilian police officers" combating "violent criminal activity."

Speaking during a press conference in Portland, Wolf also denied claims that federal officers were not properly identifying themselves, insisting that they have been wearing insignia showing they are police.

On Monday, Merkley introduced a new measure alongside fellow Democratic Congress members that would force federal officers to clearly identify themselves, while also reining in their law enforcement powers.

Formally titled the "Preventing Authoritarian Policing Tactics on America's Streets Act," Merkley said Democrats had unofficially dubbed the bill the 'No Secret Police in America Act.'"

The measure was introduced as a proposed amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and seeks to put an end to concerning tactics alleged to have been used by federal agents in Portland.

Under the act, federal officers would see their "crowd control" activities limited to protecting federal property only.

They would also be required to wear identification on their uniforms at all times and would be barred from using unmarked vehicles in arrests.

The legislation would also require the Trump administration to disclose the details of each deployment within a 24-hour time frame, including the number of personnel deployed and the reason for their deployment.

Any arrests made in violation of the above rules would be deemed unlawful.

While Merkley said Republicans had not "signed onto the bill publicly," he said he believed that if a vote on the measure is secured, "we will have some Republican support."

The proposed measure was announced as Trump threatened to expand the deployment of federal law enforcement officers to other cities, including New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Oakland and Detroit.

City mayors were quick to respond to the apparent threat, telling the Trump administration its officers would not be welcome in their cities. Detroit's mayor's office, however, expressed confusion over why the city would be included on the list at all, given that it has not seen the same level of unrest as other cities.

Merkley said that while the Trump administration appeared to be targeting Democrat-led cities, he also found it concerning that the government appeared to be considering cities with "high Black populations."

"When he talked…about his list of cities that he's considering going to next, it was Oakland, not San Francisco, Detroit, not the suburbs outside of Detroit, Chicago, not the suburbs outside of Chicago. He's targeting areas where there are high Black populations," Merkley said.

For Trump, Merkley said he believes the deployment is ultimately part of a "campaign strategy" to rally support among his base, while also "undermining the Black Lives Matter message."

Newsweek has contacted the White House for comment.

Feds Portland
Federal officers walk through tear gas while dispersing a crowd of about a thousand people during a protest at Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 21, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Nathan Howard/Getty