Lost in the Sauce: Authoritarian test run in Portland

Welcome to Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on political and legal news that often gets buried in distractions and theater… or a global health crisis.


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Portland protests

Trump’s agents are sweeping peaceful citizens off the streets. Oregon Public Broadcasting:

Federal law enforcement officers have been using unmarked vehicles to drive around downtown Portland and detain protesters since at least July 14…Personal accounts and multiple videos posted online show the officers driving up to people, detaining individuals with no explanation of why they are being arrested, and driving off.”

The tactic appears to be another escalation in federal force deployed on Portland city streets, as federal officials and President Donald Trump have said they plan to ‘quell’ nightly protests outside the federal courthouse and Multnomah County Justice Center that have lasted for more than six weeks.

  • There are numerous Twitter accounts of journalists and protestors with video from Portland. One of the best is Zane Sparling of The Portland Tribune. Scroll through his timeline if you haven’t seen the recent video, like this one he took of a Navy vet being beaten or this one he retweeted of the Portland Police rushing protestors. Here’s a different person’s thread with more footage of local police. And of course, one of the first videos to make headlines (sadly), of federal agents abducting a protestor off the street.

Homeland Security officers are using Trump’s monument order to crack down on protests in Portland. Trump signed an executive order on June 26 aimed at protecting monuments and statues. The Dept. of Homeland Security then created the “Protecting American Communities Task Force” and sent officers from Customs and Border Protection and other agencies to D.C., Seattle, and Portland.

Among the federal forces deployed in Portland are members of an elite Border Patrol tactical team, a special operations unit that is based on the U.S.-Mexico border and has been deployed overseas, including to Iraq and Afghanistan… BORTAC members, identifiable by patches on their camouflage sleeves, are mixed in with Federal Protective Service officers outside the courthouse.

DHS is operating in Portland under the guide of protecting federal property. Legally, the federal government is within its rights to use federal law enforcement officers to enforce federal law (including destruction or vandalism of federal property). Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf says his officers are preventing vandalism to the federal courthouse:

Each night, lawless anarchists destroy and desecrate property, including the federal courthouse, and attack the brave law enforcement officers protecting it. A federal courthouse is a symbol of justice – to attack it is to attack America… This siege can end if state and local officials decide to take appropriate action instead of refusing to enforce the law. DHS will not abdicate its solemn duty to protect federal facilities and those within them.

Wolf then lists crimes “justifying” the use of violent, confrontational, unidentified federal agents. However, the crimes prior to the dispatching of federal agents consist only of graffiti incidents and the “removal” of fencing.

In other words, DHS is using minor vandalism to federal property as a “hook” to authorize CBP and ICE (among others) to act as Trump’s private police.

Gov. Kate Brown said in an interview that she believed that the protests were starting to ease before the federal officers waded into the scene.

  • Note, also, that none of the DHS leaders were confirmed by the Senate. We have an acting Secretary, acting Deputy Secretary, acting head of CBP, and acting head of ICE. It’s been that way for over a year.

Oregon officials, including the governor and senators, have told DHS to get out of Portland’s streets. Gov. Kate Brown made it clear that the federal officers are inflaming the situation, but Wolf refused to pull back. Combined with Trump’s dangerous rhetoric regarding protests, it is reasonable to surmise that escalation is the whole point of these exercises in the first place.

“Let me be very, very clear, having federal troops on the streets of Portland does not solve the problem and in fact, it escalates the problem,” Brown said. “I was very clear with Secretary Wolf about that fact. This is pure politics; this isn’t about problem-solving.”

“Platoons self-designated and self-mobilized by Donald Trump to be flown thousands of miles into US cities to attack Americans fits the definition of abuse of power in any democracy,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said. “The legal justification is absurd—Trump’s occupation has nothing to do with statues. If that executive order is their basis of their authority, they are massively exceeding it and those involved should find their federal employment terminated before this is all resolved.”

The Trump administration is planning on expanding their federal force into other American cities. DHS acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli told NPR that “we intend to continue not just in Portland but in any of the facilities that we’re responsible for around the country.” White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told Fox News this could happen as early as this week:

“Attorney General Barr is weighing in on that with [DHS] Secretary Wolf, and you’ll see something rolled out this week, as we start to go in and make sure that the communities—whether it’s Chicago or Portland or Milwaukee or someplace across the heartland of the country—we need to make sure their communities are safe,” Meadows said (video).

  • Further reading: “Federal Officers Deployed in Portland Didn’t Have Proper Training, D.H.S. Memo Said,” NYT. “Evidence shows Portland police working with federal officers at protests…” OregonLive. “Oregon attorney general announces lawsuit against federal agents for their tactics on protesters,” ABC News. “US attorney requests DHS investigation…” CNN. “House chairs ask IGs to investigate…” Politico.

Court cases

The Supreme Court expedited the implementation of its ruling allowing Vance to seek Trump’s financial information. While the case can now resume more quickly, Trump still has the time and opportunity to file additional arguments in SDNY’s district court. Last week, the Manhattan district attorney’s office accused Trump of deliberately delaying the process to allow the statute of limitations to expire.

Court filings reveal that Vance is interested in more than just hush-money payments, veering into the hundreds of millions of dollars Trump sunk into hotels and golf courses in the 2000s. Once he ran out of cash, Trump took out over $300 million in loans from the private-wealth management office of Deutsche Bank.

“The subpoenas seek records, dating from 2011 to the present, concerning transactions that are unrelated to any official acts of the President, and that occurred largely before [Trump] assumed office,” Vance told the high court, adding that his probe goes into “issues beyond those involved in the Cohen matter.”

Vance’s team also told the high court their investigation is based, in part, on “multiple public reports of possible criminal misconduct” by employees of the Trump Organization.

The nonprofit that funded Trump’s post-election transition has agreed to shut down in a settlement with New Jersey’s attorney general for failing to register with the state as a charitable organization. The State Dept.’s acting Chief of Protocol Cam Henderson was paid by the Trump transition to raise money and will have to pay a fine for failing to register as a fund raiser as required.

  • Note: State Dept. IG Steve Linick was investigating Cam Henderson and her deputy prior to being fired by Pompeo and Trump. Henderson has worked in the past as an aide to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

The Justice Department carried out its third federal execution in four days on Friday, after only putting three people in death over the previous three decades. The Supreme Court cleared the way for these executions last week, issuing a 2 am unsigned ruling allowing the execution of Daniel Lee – the first federal execution since 2003. All four liberal justices dissented.

According to his attorney, Ruth Friedman, Lee remained strapped to a gurney for four hours while the Department of Justice sought the green light from the Supreme Court. The government then executed him without first notifying Friedman that her client would be killed.

  • Further reading: “The Justice Department’s Shameful Rush to Federal Executions. The push to impose the federal death penalty no matter the cost poses a grave threat to the rule of law,” NYT.

Also last week, the Supreme Court ruled that Florida’s law restricting felon voting rights can stay in place, all but guaranteeing that nearly 1 million Floridians will be unable to vote in the 2020 election because of unpaid court debts. The high court did not explain its decision; Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.

“This Court’s order prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they are poor,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a hard-charging dissent. “And it allows the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to disrupt Florida’s election process just days before the July 20 voter-registration deadline for the August primary, even though a preliminary injunction had been in place for nearly a year and a Federal District Court had found the State’s pay-to-vote scheme unconstitutional.”

Sotomayor ended by noting that the conservatives of the court ruled with opposing rational to black extended voting in Wisconsin’s pandemic primary:

This Court’s inaction continues a trend of condoning dis-franchisement. Ironically, this Court has wielded Purcell as a reason to forbid courts to make voting safer during a pandemic, overriding two federal courts because any safety-related changes supposedly came too close to election day. Now, faced with an appellate court stay that disrupts a legal status quo and risks immense disfranchisement—a situation that Purcell sought to avoid—the Court balks.

  • Note also that Florida does not know how much court debt ex-felons owe. And it has no intention of figuring it out. The state has forced ex-felons to pay up—then refused to tell them how much they must pay.

Voting rights

Voting rights and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis passed away last week. The Voting Rights Advancement Act has been sitting on McConnell’s desk for over 225 days. Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC): “It should be the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020. That’s the way to do it. Words may be powerful, but deeds are lasting.”

Trump’s new USPS chief is slowing the delivery of mail, raising concerns over late delivery of absentee ballots during primary and general elections. In a memo obtained by The Washington Post, USPS workers were told, “One aspect of these changes that may be difficult for employees is that — temporarily — we may see mail left behind or mail on the workroom floor or docks.”

Leaving mail behind endangers your vote. In 34 states, under current law your absentee ballot must be received by election authorities by election day. If your local post office is overwhelmed with ballots (which is likely, given the pandemic), your ballot could be received late and your vote will not count.

  • Remember, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has been a top donor to Trump and the Republican National Committee, and he was in charge of fundraising for the 2020 Republican National Convention.

In the primary elections held so far this year, at least 65,000 absentee or mail-in ballots have been rejected because they arrived past the deadline, often through no fault of the voter. Those who use mail-in voting for the first time — especially young, Black and Latino voters — are more likely to have their ballots rejected because of errors.

Further reading: “GOP lawmaker steps down from committees following voter fraud charges,” The Hill. “Conservative Groups Sue to Make Pandemic Voting Even Harder,” Slate.

Trump raking in donor money

In just two days in March, Trump’s re-election campaign gave Trump’s hotels nearly $400,000 of donor money for “facility rental/catering services. The campaign has also been paying more than $37,000 a month in rent to Trump Tower in New York, which is odd, considering that the campaign’s headquarters is in an office building in Rosslyn.

According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics (CRP), Trump-allied political committees and the Republican party have spent a whopping $18.1m at Trump properties since he launched his 2016 campaign. Republican candidates, elected officials and Pacs have ponied up another $1.2m in the same period.

Donald J Trump for President leads the pack, having spent a total of $14.5m since he began his 2016 campaign, with the Republican National Committee in second place at $1.8m and Trump Victory ranking third at $1.6m, Center data shows.

Meanwhile, Trump is illegally campaigning on federal property by using official White House press briefings to dump opposition research on Joe Biden. On Tuesday, the president convened reporters for a press conference purportedly about punishing China, but instead spent an hour bashing Biden:

“Biden was here for 47 years…now he says as president he’s going to do all the things he didn’t do, he never did, he never did anything except make very bad decisions.” (video)

Further reading:

  • “Five decades later, Trump is still pushing segregationist policies,” NBC News.
  • Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who went viral last month when they brandished guns while confronting Black Lives Matter protesters outside their home, appeared at a virtual Trump campaign event on Friday night.
  • Trump’s reelection campaign is conducting an internal review of spending irregularities overseen by Brad Parscale, the recently-demoted 2020 campaign manager. “Trump’s anger at Parscale has been building since last year after he learned his campaign manager was living a lavish lifestyle built off riches he’d made working for the president.”


News that didn’t fit in previous sections…

  • Seema Verma, a top Trump administration health official, violated federal contracting rules by steering millions of taxpayer dollars in contracts that ultimately benefited GOP-aligned communications consultants, according to an inspector general report
  • Russia used Trump’s intelligence sharing to try to assassinate Chechen dissidents in Europe, according to three law-enforcement and intelligence officials in Europe.
  • The Trump administration’s rewrite of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) dramatically narrows the scope of government reviews for major projects by setting aside consideration of climate change and environmental justice issues.
  • A federal report released by the GAO found the Trump administration set a rock-bottom price on the damages done by greenhouse gas emissions, enabling the government to justify the costs of repealing or weakening dozens of climate change regulations.
  • A federal court struck down a Trump administration rule that weakened restrictions on methane gas releases from drilling on public land, restoring an Obama-era rule.
  • A federal judge in California extended the deadline she first imposed that mandated the release of immigrant children detained with their parents in ICE family detention centers… had the deadline not been extended the migrant children ran the risk of being separated from their parents and released.
  • ‘They Put Us in Here to Let Us Die’: ICE Prison Sees Outbreak of Coronavirus—and Guard Violence. Over two-thirds of migrants locked up at a private ICE facility tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Hospitals Are Suddenly Short of Young Doctors — Because of Trump’s Visa Ban: Doctors treating coronavirus patients were supposed to be allowed into the U.S. But hundreds of young doctors have their visas put on hold indefinitely.
  • Washington state sues Trump administration to block rollback of transgender health care protections
  • Pompeo says U.S. should limit which human rights it defends: The secretary of state’s “narrow view of human rights” would leave “LGBTQ people even more vulnerable to violence and discrimination,” advocates say.
  • Israel keeps blowing up military targets in Iran, hoping to force a confrontation before Trump can be voted out in November, sources say