Aug 6, 2020
Senate Oversight Hearing Transcript: DHS Personnel Deployments to Protests
The Senate held an oversight hearing of DHS personnel deployments to recent protests on August 6. Read the transcript of the hearing.
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Sen. Johnson: (02:11)
Protesters have deliberately attempted to blind them with lasers and other weapons. At least 930 non-federal law enforcement officers have been injured and at least one has died. At least 38 federal officers have been doxed in Portland. The personal information about them such as addresses or phone numbers were put online as a means of intimidation. At least 21 federal court houses have been vandalized this summer. Protestors in Nashville broke into city hall and lit fires in late May. A woman charged this week was caught on video holding a poster reading F the police, lighting it and tossing it through a broken window. Protestors in suburban Denver broke into a courthouse and lit fires. Protesters in Minneapolis burned down a police station, others tried doing the exact same thing in Seattle. A peaceful protest in Oakland in July intensified as news reports put it, after protesters set fire inside a courthouse and launched fireworks at officers. During a peaceful protest in Madison, Wisconsin at least one individual hurled a gasoline bomb beneath the city county building which holds the city’s 911 dispatch center in a jail. That night also included the beating of at least two individuals, one of them a state lawmaker who collapsed into the landscaping near the Capitol. These peaceful protests that include arson and assault have left a mark on our cities, our culture, and our country.
Sen. Johnson: (03:38)
As the journalist Michael Tracy recently wrote to quote, “From large metro areas like Chicago and Minneapolis, Saint Paul, to small and mid sized cities like Fort Wayne, Indiana and Green Bay, Wisconsin, the number of boarded up, damaged or destroyed buildings I have personally observed commercial, civic and residential, is staggering. Keeping the exact count is impossible. One might think that a major media organization like the New York Times will use some of their galactic journalist resources to tally up the wreckage for posterity but roughly six weeks later such a tally is nowhere to be found.”
Sen. Johnson: (04:20)
While police were tied up dealing with peaceful protests, homicides elsewhere in our cities were skyrocketing. By the end of July homicides are up 53% in Chicago for the same period in 2019. In Minneapolis murders are up 86%, in Milwaukee 84%, New York 29%, Atlanta 34%, Seattle 42%, Philadelphia 33%, in New Orleans 36%, in Denver 46%. Those numbers measure the loss of human lives. Many are black lives that don’t seem to matter much to the movement. Some are children, some are children whose lives have been cut tragically short, children’s whose lives matter, their names matter. In Chicago alone, child victims include 15 year old Terrance Malden, 15 year old Jeremiah James, he was shot in the head, 15 year old Michael Ike, 14 year old Varando Jones Jr., 10 year old Lina Nunez, seven year old Natalia Wallace shot in a backyard party, three year old Mekai James killed when someone shot at his father’s car in traffic. One year old Sincere Gaston killed when somebody shot his mother’s car. And that’s just since Memorial day in one city.
Sen. Johnson: (05:51)
These people died because criminals killed them. But many have also died because police were constrained and prevented from doing their job to protect them. When you encouraged disdain for police, you encourage criminals. When you do little or nothing to stop riots, you unleash anarchy. And when you encouraged criminals and unleash anarchy, people die and all of us suffer. With that I’ve got a two minute video that I’d like everybody to watch. It’s not easy to watch, but it shows the reality of what these peaceful protests have evolved into.
Speaker 1: (10:12)
[crosstalk 00:07: 13].
Speaker 1: (10:12)
Sen Peters: (10:12)
Violence and domestic terrorism threats. We have seen far too many attacks in this country at the hands of white supremacist terrorist. Attacks that have taken the lives of far too many Americans. When Americans were murdered in shopping centers or while at worship by domestic terrorist, with ties to white supremacy movements, your department failed to respond with the same urgency that we saw on the streets of Portland. When one federal protection services officer was tragically murdered, and another was seriously wounded in the line of duty earlier this year, it was by Americans with ties to Boogaloo boys, a movement rooted in white nationalism. Yet you still have not released the complete plan to combat white supremacy violence nearly a year after a long delayed release of the strategic framework for countering terrorism and targeted violence.
Sen Peters: (11:08)
I want to know why your agency is not focusing on the threat posed by white supremacist violence in our country with the same sense of urgency? I want to know why your own office of intelligence and analysis has no trouble sharing intelligence on journalists with police in Portland, but makes excuses for not being able to keep tabs on suspected domestic terrorist as frequent white nationalist forums online? The Department of Homeland Security and decisions made to keep our community safe should not be or ever be driven by politics. Terrorism is terrorism, whether it fits the ideological narrative of DHS leaders are not, DHS must never let politics define limit or overshadow the truth about the security risks that are facing our country. Instead of allowing your department’s resources, personnel, and mission to tackle the white supremacy terrorist threat, you have chosen to focus on optics.
Sen Peters: (12:06)
I know that our law enforcement personnel put their lives on the line every time they go to work. I have fought hard in Congress to make sure that they have the resources they need to stay safe in the line of duty and return home to their families safe. Let me be crystal clear, the decisions this administration has made in recent months have put DHS personnel in unnecessary risk, and because you chose to escalate conflicts, you not only risk your officer’s safety, you risked the safety of American civilians. Now more than ever, we need leadership at the Department of Homeland Security. We need coordination with state and local officials. We need to focus on the most prevalent and the most deadly threats that are facing our country. I continue to hope the apartment can juggle it’s complex mission, but what I’ve seen so far calls into serious question this administration’s priorities when it comes to national security. I look forward to speaking with you today and continuing to work together to protect our national security and the security of the American people. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (13:11)
Thanks Sen. Peters. As the tradition of this meet, tried witnesses, please stand and raise your hand. Do you swear that the testimony you give before this committee will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Chad Wolf: (13:24)
Speaker 2: (13:29)
The Honorable Chad Wolf is the acting secretary of department of Homeland security who had been serving this position since November 2019. This role previously held numerous senior leadership roles in the department, including leading the office of strategy, policy and plans and serving as the chief of staff in the department. Thank you Secretary Wolf.
Chad Wolf: (13:47)
Sen. Johnson and [inaudible 00:13:48] Peters, members of the committee, thank you again for the opportunity to testify today. While many Americans are aware of the traditional missions of the Department of Homeland Security, such as aviation security, border security, immigration enforcement and counter terrorism, just to name a few. Many are not as familiar with the important mission of the Federal Protective Service or FPS. FPS has protected federal property for almost 50 years and does so at almost 9,000 properties around this country.
Chad Wolf: (14:15)
This responsibility was specifically provided to FPS through the secretary of Homeland Security by the United States Congress. For over 60 days, federal properties in Portland, particularly the Hatfield federal courthouse has been attacked by violent criminal, violent opportunist, and violent anarchy. I want to be clear, we see in Portland every day, nonviolent protest. The department is aware of the national dialogue taking place around racism, law enforcement practices, and we continue to support and defend every American’s right to exercise their first amendment rights. The violent activity that I will refer to today is not associated with those protests. The violent activity we see occurring between midnight and 5:00 AM began roughly around May 28th with the mayor of Portland announcing an 8:00 PM to 6:00 AM curfew from May 30th to June 2nd. On June 1st due to the level of violence, well before DHS arrived in Portland, the Portland mayor asked the governor of Oregon to activate the national guard to help protect facilities in the city.
Chad Wolf: (15:21)
Over the course of June DHS monitored the situation in Portland closely, began deploying additional FPS officers into Portland to protect federal facilities. And despite surging over 20 additional FPS officers throughout the month of June, in late June it was clear we were over-matched. In early June at the request of FPS officials in Portland, I directed additional law enforcement assets to Portland to protect federal properties as well as officers. Our federal officers have faced assaults from bricks, baseball bats, sledgehammers, Molotov cocktails, commercial grade fireworks, accelerants, IBDs, and other violent weapons. Since July 4th, federal officials in Portland have made 99 arrests. DHS officers have experienced 277 separate injuries. Those injuries range from minor to serious and include several who may have permanent eye damage. I’d like now to play a short video of what our officers have faced during their time in Portland.
Chad Wolf: (17:20)
Unfortunately, what has been absent during this 60 day period was the assistance of local and state law enforcement personnel. DHS and DOJ officers were provided little to no assistance night-after-night in protecting federal properties and themselves. Local and state officials did not allow local law enforcement to police the area immediately around the federal facilities nor the parks nearby, which violate opportunists used as a staging ground to prepare for their nightly assault on the courthouse and our officers. Local and state officials did not allow law enforcement to make any arrests. I repeat, any arrests, if the violence was directed at federal property.
Chad Wolf: (18:00)
In fact on July 17th, the Mayor of Portland directed that all federal law enforcement agencies be prohibited from accessing the Portland Police Bureau Emergency Operations Center. And on July 22nd, the Portland City Council issued a resolution specifically directing all members of the Portland Police Bureau shall not provide a request or will they receive any operational support from DHS and DOJ law enforcement agencies. To put it simply, DHS and DOJ officers, law enforcement officers, civil law enforcement officers, were abandoned due to dangerous policies by local officials. Cooperation and assistance our federal officers received in any other city around the country, did not exist in Portland.
Chad Wolf: (18:45)
Let me briefly address several inaccurate statements offered by Selma of events that have played out in Portland. Our law enforcement officers are not an occupying force and they are not serving a general domestic security agency. They have been deployed for an extended period of time to one city, and that’s Portland, and it’s to protect federal properties. Our law enforcement officers are not stormtroopers to get stopped by or thugs. They are civil law enforcement officers who wear clearly marked uniforms, who are properly trained to follow established law enforcement procedures and practices, and operate within their authority.
Chad Wolf: (19:21)
It’s been suggested that our law enforcement officers should not be in Portland if not invited by state and local officials. And while our preference is always to partner with local and state law enforcement enforcing federal law is not by invitation. Unlike global law enforcement, we can not be directed to ignore criminal activity and actions. We will never shy away from our statutory duties.
Chad Wolf: (19:44)
On July 14th, I placed phone calls to the Mayor of Portland and the Governor of Oregon. I offered the full resources of the department to assist them in ending the violence directed at the Federal Courthouse. Their answer was stark. “No, thank you. And please remove all DHS law enforcement officers from Portland.” Fortunately, the Governor felt better about this decision and reached out two and a half weeks later to offer Oregon State Police support to address the violence.
Chad Wolf: (20:10)
As of today, the full augmented DHS law enforcement posture remains in Portland. They will continue to remain until we are assured that the Hatfield Federal Courthouse, as well as other federal facilities in Portland, will no longer be violently attacked. And while we have seen a noticeable decrease in violent activity directed at the Federal Courthouse in recent days, make no mistake, there continues to be violence in Portland. Over the past seven days, Portland Police have declared a riot on four different occasions. Glass bottles and blinding lasers have been directed at Portland police officers. Numerous arrests have been made. And the Portland Police Association building has been set on fire. While this violence is not directed at the Federal Courthouse, DHS law enforcement officers remain on alert should it return. Again, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I look forward to the questions.
Ron Johnson: (20:59)
Thank you, acting secretary Wolf. Senator Scott has to preside at 11:00, so I think probably the cleanest thing is I’ll just yield my question time to Senator Scott.
Senator Scott: (21:09)
Thank you, Chairman Johnson. So first off, I just want to thank you for what you do every day. I was governor for eight years and I learned three things, or that people care about three things: jobs, education for the kids, and they want to be safe. So with the video you showed, the things that we’ve seen in Portland, are disgusting. So do you think it’s a peaceful protest when people use lasers to try and blind law enforcement officers?
Chad Wolf: (21:34)
Senator Scott: (21:36)
Do you think that the peaceful protest when people throw bricks at law enforcement officers?
Chad Wolf: (21:40)
Senator Scott: (21:41)
Do you think the peaceful protest when people start fires around buildings?
Chad Wolf: (21:45)
Senator Scott: (21:48)
So would you call the attack on the federal building in Portland a peaceful protest?
Chad Wolf: (21:52)
Senator Scott: (21:55)
Do you have an obligation in your job to defend federal property?
Chad Wolf: (21:59)
I would say it’s an obligation and it’s a direction from The Congress. It says that we shall protect this federal facility if we don’t have an option. It doesn’t say we can’t. It says that we shall. I would just say that we do see peaceful protesting in Portland every day. Every day. There are 60, 66 days of this there are peaceful protests, that does not make the news. There are no arrests, there are no injuries. That usually occurs in the early evening. Very different than what the video shows.
Senator Scott: (22:25)
So when you read things where politician’s say, “All these protests in Portland were peaceful.” And you see the video, you see what’s happened to your law enforcement officers. How do you feel? And how does your law enforcement people feel?
Chad Wolf: (22:40)
Well I would say I have some very strong feelings about that. Again, I think what folks are doing, whether intentionally or unintentionally, they’re confusing two different activities that are going on in Portland. Peaceful protesting and the violent activities that you see between midnight and 5:00 AM there every morning. Our law enforcement officers are doing their very best. Some of what you saw in the video, very difficult circumstances.
Chad Wolf: (23:04)
They are behind the printer. They are inside the Federal Courthouse. They’re inside that courthouse for the vast majority of time. They only come out to defend the courthouse as it is getting attacked. And I mentioned some of the language, stormtroopers, Gestapo, and things like that. I think most reasonable Americans and almost all law enforcement know that that is an absolute lie.
Senator Scott: (23:25)
So were you surprised when the Mayor and the Governor didn’t provide support to do the job of protecting federal property?
Chad Wolf: (23:34)
I did. And I think everyone understands that Oregon and Portland, they have, there’s an environment there of protesting, and so we certainly appreciate that. What we saw throughout June and end of July is going beyond that. It’s becoming very, very violent. And when you don’t hold individuals accountable, or you allow them to pack the Courthouse, and then step back across the street into a park, to rearm, to come back to the Courthouse, and night, after night, after night, it embolden them.
Chad Wolf: (24:00)
What we see in Portland is that there is an environment. If you go back to 2018, we had a ICE facility, a DHS ICE facility. For 28 days it was laid siege to buy individuals. Portland Police, local officials did nothing for 28 days. We finally had to send in federal law enforcement assets to take that building back.
Senator Scott: (24:20)
So what should Congress be doing to be helpful to you? And well, first of, why don’t we talk about this? Talk about the people that have lost their vision. How many? And are you-
Chad Wolf: (24:29)
So you saw a little bit from the video the Chairman, that green laser is what we’re talking about. So that’s a new tactic that we have seen, that our Federal Protective Service officers have seen in Portland. It’s very powerful. This is not the laser that your cat or dog may chase on the ground. This is a very, very powerful laser. So it hits their eyes, it will key up the nucleus of the eye, and it will give you permanent damage. You’ll be able to address that with some eye protections, but we have three officers that will likely lose some portion of their vision.
Senator Scott: (25:06)
And have you heard a lot of sympathy for them through a lot of these actual politicians today? As they say, these people that throw bricks, and start fires, and do the lasers, have you heard any of them say, “Gosh, I’m worried about your law enforcement officers losing their vision?”
Chad Wolf: (25:20)
No, I think that’s really disappointing. I talk passionately about what we do in Portland, and that’s because of the law enforcement officers there that are putting their lives in danger. They’re getting injured. What I don’t hear is any appreciation for that. The ranking members certainly did that in his opening statement, and I thank you for that. But I hear very little of that. I hear very little of that from the Oregon congressional delegation. They have not mentioned DHS law enforcement officer’s injuries that they have had for protecting the Federal Courthouse. Very similar to protecting the US Capital. If someone walked up to the US Capital and tried to burn it down, you would arrest them. I would hope Capital Police would arrest them. That’s all we’re trying to do in Portland is protect a federal facility, the seat of justice there in Portland.
Senator Scott: (26:03)
And how many law enforcement officers have lost their life since the protest started back in May?
Chad Wolf: (26:09)
From a DHS perspective, it’s the one that the Chairman mentioned, Officer Underwood in Oakland, protecting a courthouse there in Oakland. We’ve had numerous injuries across the country, 277 that I mentioned just specifically in Portland. But we have many numerous ones that have been injured.
Senator Scott: (26:28)
Thank you, Chairman Johnson.
Ron Johnson: (26:28)
Sen Peters: (26:33)
Thank you Chairman Johnson. Again, system’s director, well thank you… Or acting secretary Wolf, thank you again for your testimony. And to be clear on the record, we do are concerned about the men and women, when they put their lives in jeopardy every day to protect this country, and respect the job they do. Understand that this is a very tough job.
Sen Peters: (26:51)
Mr. Chairman, we heard acting secretary Wolf talk about the local officials and their unwillingness to be a part of securing their city. Certainly the images that we saw are disturbing. It’s just hard for me to believe that local officials would just sit by idly and not be engaged in that. And as I asked you, when we requested this hearing, it would have been wonderful to hear both sides of the story, to have folks from Oregon, the Mayor, the Governor, Police Chief, other officials that were engaged. If we’re going to be looking into the actions that occurred in Portland, I think we need a complete picture. And my experience has been there are always two sides to every story. I need to hear that story. So hopefully that will happen in the future? And we’re going to able to get a better sense of that.
Sen Peters: (27:40)
So my question to you, acting secretary Wolf, is would you agree that the part of Homeland Security’s ability to conduct its mission of securing our nation really depends on partnerships and trust? Trust is absolutely critical in this very complex mission that you have, which I talked about in the opening. And that trust needs to be established with state and local officials for everything. When you think of the broad range of topics that you deal with election security, protecting our borders, cybersecurity, natural disasters, all of those things are under your purview. Don’t you believe that we need to have a relationship with local officials in order to effectively conduct that mission?
Chad Wolf: (28:23)
I agree 100%.
Sen Peters: (28:25)
So why did that not occur here?
Chad Wolf: (28:28)
Again, we have been talking, again, with Portland Police and Oregon for over 60 days. We continue to ask them to get involved. Now what we do see is local police and state police making arrests if the violence is directed at Portland Police facilities or city facilities. If the violence is directed, specifically, at the Hatfield Federal Courthouse, they would not engage. They would not make arrests. And again, these violent individuals are staging in two parks, city park across the street from the Courthouse every night. They have tents set up. And this is where they stage out of. They do that on the city streets.
Chad Wolf: (29:07)
Vince, that you saw there, is on the curb. So they’re in city streets as they are attacking the Courthouse and that fence. We continued to engage with them. We had over the course of 60 days. As I mentioned in my opening statement, City Council passed resolutions that prohibited Portland Police from coordinating with federal law enforcement, even in their Emergency Management Center. So even in an area where police talk together to de-conflict and make sure you don’t have blue-on-blue incidents, that’s currently not occurring in Portland because of some of those City Council resolutions passed.
Sen Peters: (29:43)
Well, I’d like to do I read a statement to you by a former DHS Secretary Chertoff. And I know you’re familiar with him? He served under President Bush.
Chad Wolf: (29:51)
Sen Peters: (29:51)
Republican appointee. He recently stated that the department’s actions are putting public trust at risk and that it’s response in Portland shows that there was no respect for or coordination with the wishes of local authorities. He went on to say , I believe that this is a dangerous precedent as our country faces so many threats that requires these partnerships. Was former Secretary Chertoff wrong?
Chad Wolf: (30:19)
So I certainly respect the former Secretary Chertoff’s service to the department and to the country. But absolutely, on this point he is dead wrong.
Sen Peters: (30:29)
How is he dead wrong?
Chad Wolf: (30:31)
Again, I’m happy to walk you through exactly the coordination that we had tried to do with Portland Police. I reached out to Mayor on several, on an occasion to offer our support, to offer that coordination, to understand what’s occurring on the ground, the events that are occurring, again, between midnight and 5:00 AM every morning. I don’t believe that Secretary Chertoff, as well as others that have commented on DHS actions, is really understand what is going on in Portland. I think they confuse peaceful protesting that we see usually takes place between 6:00 and 7:00 PM until about 10:30 at night. Again, no concerns there. It happens right across the street from the Courthouse. There are no incidents. What we see at midnight to 5:00 AM is violent, violent activity where we get no support, no support from state and local officials.
Sen Peters: (31:21)
Well, as a result of what’s happened in Portland, I certainly have heard an awful lot from state and local officials in my state concern as well about what they see. And given the understandable concern that’s being expressed following the images that we’ve seen, what are you doing to work with officials in communities that are participating in Operation Legend to build trust? And some of the critical relationships that are necessary for us to accomplish the mission that you’re [crosstalk 00:31:50]-
Chad Wolf: (31:50)
I would answer that a few different ways, Senator. One, what we see in Portland is very different than any other city across the country, than we see when we talk about protecting federal property. We see a cooperative relationship between federal, state, and local officials, whether it’s Chicago, Seattle, or any other major city where we have federal properties. There is threats and intelligence, individuals are targeting those facilities, state and local law enforcement partner with us and help respond to that. That’s different than what has been occurring in Portland for over 60 days. Previously 60 days.
Sen Peters: (32:21)
So you’re saying Portland’s a one-off? Portland is one case. You’re not seeing this all across the country.
Chad Wolf: (32:26)
Sen Peters: (32:27)
We shouldn’t be worried about anarchy and chaos all across the country?
Chad Wolf: (32:29)
I have been very clear about directed events at federal facilities. Portland is very, very different. Now we do see targeted attack in Atlanta, and Seattle, and other places. A few federal facilities, they have been damaged. But what we see in those cities is state and local law enforcement partnering with us to protect the facilities. And then again, the hold those that are attacking those certainly accountable.
Chad Wolf: (32:55)
When we talk about Operation Legend, which you mentioned, the Department Of Justice led initiative, that’s really to target the violent street crime that you see in some of these major metropolitan areas, transnational criminal gains, illicit narcotics, firearms, things of that nature. So the Department of DHS, they’re our Homeland Security investigators are partnering with the Department Of Justice on that, but it is very different activity in what we are doing in Portland.
Sen Peters: (33:26)
I’m running low on time here, Mr. Wolf. But with DHS resources stretched, what assurances can you give us that combating White supremacy, violence, and domestic terrorism is truly a priority within your department? And something that you will commit the resources necessary to combat?
Chad Wolf: (33:45)
Absolutely. We’ve had several conversations about this. Again, the department looks at all forms of violent extremism, whether it’s the far right, the far left, and everything in between. Obviously we’re responding specifically to what’s going on in Portland and other cities around the country. Again, in a different position at the department, I had the opportunity to-
Chad Wolf: (34:03)
Again, in a different position at the department, I had the opportunity develop the Department of Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence. That was back in September of 2019. Strategy outlines the dangers that we are seeing and the rising threat that we are seeing in the violent white supremacist extremism, and lays out a number of actions. We were working on that implementation plan. I believe you referred to it in your opening statement.
Chad Wolf: (34:22)
We’re also pushing out additional grants targeting this area as well. We have a nonprofit security grant from FEMA that also goes towards places of worship, faith based communities that will also protect them against this. And then of course our cyber security infrastructure security agency works with a host of partners and stakeholders regarding soft target security and making sure that those are shored up against the violent impacts as well.
Sen Peters: (34:50)
So in closing here, I know that you put out this strategic plan, but what you really need to do is actually implement a plan. A plan is nothing unless it’s actually implemented. You have not put out that implementation plan and we don’t see a sense of urgency when it comes to creating that plan. What is your timeline? When should we see an implementation plan, and actual concrete actions?
Chad Wolf: (35:11)
Sure. So while we haven’t published or put out an implementation plan, we are implementing many of the initiatives in that strategy. Let me get you an exact date on when we can get the implementation plan up. I know it’s being finalized as we speak and we will provide that to the committee as quickly as possible.
Sen Peters: (35:27)
Speaker 3: (35:29)
Senator Portman: (35:29)
So I’d like you to tell the men and women who work for you in federal law enforcement that we appreciate what they’re doing. We know that they have a responsibility by the way, under law that were passed here in this Congress to protect these federal buildings. And looking at those videos is hard. It looks almost like a war scend. And so let them know that the people that I represent understand they have a responsibility, understand that they’re putting themselves in danger, and it’s appreciated.
Senator Portman: (36:13)
And just to back up a second, the tragic murder of Georgia Floyd was something I think all of us thought was horrible. And then we had protests and demonstrations all around the country in response to that in support of racial justice and equality. I think the vast majority of Americans fully support those demonstrations. They’re people and I think we have the right as Americans to do the First Amendment, to be able to protest. So we can never let that be taken away.
Senator Portman: (36:51)
But what saw in those videos and what you’ve explained today and what we’ve all seen on our TV sets and online is deeply troubling because the violence, the rioting, the physical damage, the arson, certainly the looting, one thing that breaks my heart is to see store owners, particularly in some of these underserved communities who own small businesses, see it destroyed. You can drive through almost every major city in America today and see stores that are boarded up. You can see it here in Washington D.C., by the way as you drive around the White House area. You can still see a lot of stores and shops boarded up.
Senator Portman: (37:32)
The arson that we saw in the video is extremely dangerous to everybody, and unfortunately we’ve seen companies, some of these protests, not all, and fortunately there’s an exception, which is that in terms of the attacks on the federal buildings. I guess the one question I would ask you is what have we learned? The coordinated with the local and the state officials has obviously been a huge problem, the lack of coordination today. It sounds like that’s getting better. It sounds like the governor and other around are working more closely with you. But what can you have done there? The protection of the courthouse and federal building in general, I think is again, clearly within your mission set, but were there things that were done or things that happened that you’ve learned from in terms of potential for future conflicts like this? What would you tell this us this morning?
Chad Wolf: (38:36)
Well, thank you for the question and I think it goes back to regular member’s question about the partnership between federal law enforcement and state local law enforcement. What we’ve seen is across the country, it works in city, after city, after city. Unfortunately, what we saw in Portland was the lack of that. Allowed these violent individuals to, again, continue to attack the federal facility night after night with no repercussions, no one holding them accountable. So they became more emboldened night after night. And we started seeing some of the weapons that they used became more and more sophisticated. At first, it was bricks, bottles, frozen water bottles, canned food, things that are hard that can be thrown at an officer.
Chad Wolf: (39:19)
Night after night and 30 days, in 40 days, there’s no consequence to them doing that, so then they come back with commercial grade fireworks. Then they come back with IEDs. Then they come back with the power tools. They keep coming back because there’s no accountability. So the lesson learned is making sure that there is close partnership with state and local law enforcement officials. Again, we see that in every other city around the country. We see that now-
Senator Portman: (39:48)
Well, I think you make a good point. You don’t want to have this accelerate. And so getting control of the situation earlier, obviously makes sense. And I will push on this because I want to ask you about Operation Legend, but I think my question is more what have we learned as a federal DHS federal protective service law enforcement function that we could have done better? Was there nothing that could have been done? Could that information have been provided in a way that was more compelling to be able to get that cooperation? I find it extraordinary that the corporation wasn’t there because I know every level of local law enforcement, state law enforcement, federal law enforcement typically have a passion to be able to coordinate and work together and do it well, even without the direction, just at the grass roots.
Senator Portman: (40:37)
But maybe you can get back to me on that as to what could’ve been done to try to make this relationship work better. And Operation Legend, it came up a moment ago, and I’d like to clear some confusion about that. It’s just something that has been confusing in my home today. My understanding is that Operation Legend is a follow on to Operate Relentless Pursuit, which is about violent crime. It’s not about big protests. It’s not about what we’ve been talking about otherwise today. And Cleveland, Ohio is one of the cities that is apparently part of Operation Legend and will receive more funds and also more help, including help from DHS. My understanding is several DHS personnel will be part of the new Operation Legend, or the expansion of Operation Relentless Pursuit in Cleveland. And I think the violence that we’ve seen in our cities, and I’m talking about violent crime here, is a big concern. We’ve seen enough. Studies I’ve seen even this week are that there’s about a 24% rise this last year in reported homicides, and 50 are large cities in America. Unfortunately, Cleveland is one of those. And so I think it’s good that we’re helping Cleveland to cut down on violent crime. I think, again, we talked to the mayor about this. He also would like to see obviously a reduction in violent crime. My concern is that there was come confusion and concern back in Ohio about this program because of a lack of education with the attorney, with the mayor, with others.
Senator Portman: (42:15)
The mayor told me he read about Operation Legend, as an example. He said he heard that right a press release. And my question to you is what could we do to sort of reduce the confusion about this? There is a lot of concern that this has to do with federal agents coming in and dealing with the protests, which was not the issue at all. It’s about violent crime. And without having information upfront and without having done the proper groundwork, it created more confusion than it should have. I think it’s been cleared up now, but I would just ask you, could you distinguish Operation Legend from, as an example, the situation in Portland? And could you tell us how DHS could do a better job in cooperating with local law enforcement, as well as some of our federal personnel, including the US attorneys?
Chad Wolf: (43:04)
Sure. Again, what we are doing in Portland is protecting a federal facility that has been under attack or was under attack for over 60 days. Operation Legend is not directed at federal facilities or protection of federal facilities. It’s more still again to address that violent street crime. HSI, Homeland Security Investigations, part of ICE, is partnering, it’s a small partnership with DOJ as they go out into different cities, specifically in Chicago with where we are most engaged. And HSI every day deals with drug trafficking, money laundering, weapons trafficking, and violent crime. And that’s what we are partnering with ATF, DEA, FBI, Marshall service in specific cities like Chicago, but across the country as well. So two different missions regarding Operation Legend and making sure that the coordination, the communication is there. My understanding is that most Operation Legend initiatives are being run by US attorneys in those various cities and various districts. So I’ll certainly take that back to DOJ to make sure that that partnership and that communication is there.
Senator Portman: (44:10)
Well, I think I would appreciate your looking into it, but also getting back to us and talking about how we can better coordinated. Because clearly, we didn’t coordinate well. Again, if you don’t take the lead in that, DOJ is a possibility for local law enforcement, and of course the mayor, and the attorneys who heard about it through press accounts rather than having been told about it and having gotten the explanation makes it more difficult for you to do your job, because when you’re agents show up and people aren’t sure what the purpose is, it just makes it harder. So I just think it’s a matter of simple communication, and my hope is that we can do a better job of that going forward. And again, I want to end with saying that I hope you will communicate back to people with the men and women who work for you who are doing their jobs and doing it professionally that we understand the sacrifices they’re making and we appreciate it.
Speaker 3: (45:06)
Thank you. Senator Hassan
Senator Hassan: (45:09)
Well thank you Mr. Chair and ranking member for having this hearing. And I would just echo the ranking member’s observation that it would be good to build on this hearing by also hearing from state and local officials. I want to thank you, acting Secretary Wolf, for your testimony today. And I also hope you will pass on my thanks to the men and women who work so greatly to defend our country and make us safe. And I also want to take a moment to mourn the loss of David Patrick Underwood, the Federal Protective Service officer who was killed in the line of duty in Oakland by a member of the Oakland Movement. Our country is undergoing a much needed reckoning about our history and reality of racial injustice following the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many others. As we continue working to address long standing inequities in our society, including in the criminal justice system, we must also conduct strong oversight of the federal government’s response in recent months to the protest in places like Washington D.C. and Portland, Oregon.
Senator Hassan: (46:11)
That’s why today’s hearing is so vital. So I want to start, Mr. Wolf, with this question. The Washington Post and Politico recently reported that the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis compiled intelligence reports about journalists and protestors involved in the Portland protests. A second story also stated that Mr. Cuccinelli waived the requirements that DHS’s Intelligence Office be subject to a review by DHS’s internal civil rights watchdog, the office for civil rights and civil liberties. That’s extremely troubling. At the core of it’s mission, DHS relies on public trust and cooperation as embodied by the see something, say something campaign. The American people expect the DHS’s activities will be done in a manner consistent with our values. So what is extremely disappointing to hear that DHS’s own internal mechanisms are being circumvented, or or perhaps arbitrarily discarded. As I’ve heard you say, the matter is being investigated by the department. Can you confirm for us, please, who is leading the investigation?
Chad Wolf: (47:16)
Sure. In the department office of the inspector general is performing that investigation. I will say you mentioned two different issues I think that are being conflated. So if I have just a moment, I can explain the two issues. So open source recording program at DHS has been in existence since 2011. And so there were three instances that I was made aware of of information being put out that also identified media or press individuals. As soon as I was made aware of what was occurring, I stopped the program, I stopped the practice, reverted to the IEG, and again, removed the individual in charge of that directive.
Senator Hassan: (48:01)
And let me stop you there for a minute. My time is limited and I just want to drill down on one thing. Is the IEG the only investigation going on of that issue?
Chad Wolf: (48:06)
Of that specific issue? Yes, I believe so. We have an internal. INA has also an oversight function that is also looking at that.
Senator Hassan: (48:14)
Okay. So then what I want to get to then is if you have another internal investigation, given his apparent involvement in the waiving of the requirement with DHS intelligence activities important to civil rights and civil liberties oversight, will Mr. Cuccinelli recuse himself from any matters related to that investigation?
Chad Wolf: (48:35)
The OIG investigation is separate and apart from anything that I would be involved in, that Mr. Cuccinelli would be involved in-
Senator Hassan: (48:40)
But you mentioned an internal investigation somehow separately.
Chad Wolf: (48:45)
It’s a preliminary investigation, but as soon as the IEG picked up the investigation or accepted the investigation-
Senator Hassan: (48:50)
That is now the only one?
Chad Wolf: (48:50)
We have stopped the IEG.
Senator Hassan: (48:50)
Okay. All right. So let’s-
Chad Wolf: (48:50)
To go back to the CRCL question that you specifically mentioned, I think they’re being a little confused here. So we have raw intelligence reporting and then we have finished intelligence products. And what Mr. Cuccinelli did was remove himself. If there was an issue with finished intelligence reports and there was a disagreement between CRCL and the office of intelligence and analysis, it would normally come to the deputy secretary to resolve. What he did is he removed himself from that, he left it with the undersecretary of intelligence and analysis to resolve that. The CRCL played a role with that. The CRCL also plays a role with regard to collection requirements of raw intelligence as well. So I think it’s important to separate those things because what we saw in Portland in the open source reporting are raw intelligence products.
Senator Hassan: (49:41)
All right, well, thank you. We will follow up with you on that because I want to drill down and make sure we understand it, but it is a concerning report and I appreciate that the IEG is taking it on. I want to move on to something else. As DHS personnel work to protect federal buildings and their occupants, it’s critical that they take all possible steps to try to deescalate any confrontations, both to protect themselves and others. So I want to build a minute on Senator Portman’s line of questions about what DHS could have done better.
Senator Hassan: (50:12)
Two of your predecessors at the department who both served under a Republican administration have expressed concern that that wasn’t what happened in Portland, deescalation wasn’t what happened. Tom Bridge, our nation’s first DHS secretary and former governor of Pennsylvania, said that the way DHS officials were acting was, quote, not diffusing the situation it exacerbated it, close quote. Similarly, former DHS secretary Michael Turcotte recently said that DHS forces have taken a, quote, very belligerent aggressive tone, close quote, toward the protests and that their actions have, quote, poured gasoline on the fire, close quote, of a situation that now threatens to undermine the public’s trust in the department. Mr. Wolf, have you spoken with former secretaries Bridge and Turcotte? Do you agree with them that DHS should-
Senator Hassan: (51:03)
Former secretaries, Ridge and Chertoff, do you agree with them, the DHS should seek to deescalate tensions when in the field instead of increasing them?
Chad Wolf: (51:08)
I have spoken to both former secretary of Ridge and Chertoff. I walked them through specifically what was going on in Portland, they asked a number of questions and at the end of that conversation, they thanked me. They said they did not know all the facts. And that certainly informs their decision to report. Absolutely, we absolutely have to deescalate. A lot of the training at the federal protective service, as well as the specific assets that we sent to Portland are trained on deescalation techniques. A lot of what we do when you look at a five hour period every night, we are inside that federal courthouse 90 to 95% of that time. We only come out when there are fires being set, when there’s enough individuals, when there’s thousands, we see anywhere from 500 to 5,000 individuals on that fence line. And at some point you do have to disperse the crowd and you have to push them back, because they will [inaudible 00:52:03]. So we do a number of tactics that actually try to descalate the situation.
Senator Hassan: (52:07)
Well, what I would appreciate, understanding that I’m just about out of time here, what I would appreciate is hearing from your department about the type of deescalation training that you do. And I also to follow up with where Senator [inaudible 00:52:21] was going would appreciate a further conversation about what you’ve learned about what worked and didn’t work, because we’ve seen very disturbing video here today. There’s also very disturbing video where the authorities are using [inaudible 00:52:36] on people who appear to be peaceful. So those are the types of things that together can escalate along with decisions, tactical decisions you’re to be made. So I’d appreciate following up with you, again, thank the professional men and women in your service for their service and thank their families for us too. Thank you.
Chad Wolf: (52:59)
Just one clarification, the video that we see with the [inaudible 00:53:00] hitting the Navy [inaudible 00:02:03], that is not DHS law enforcement.
Senator Hassan: (53:05)
Well, and, but again, that’s coordination and clarity about what you’re doing, who you are and wearing clear identification [inaudible 00:00:53:15].
Speaker 4: (53:21)
Senator Paul: (53:21)
Of course, Black lives do matter, but just saying it so it doesn’t make it so. Slogans painted in the street don’t necessarily save lives. It’s important to know that the majority of lives being lost in our cities are young Black men. I think it’s unconscionable, it’s been going on decade, after decade, after decade, I visited the South side of Chicago. I’ve been to the most violent precinct in our country, visited with Pastor Brooks there. He’s trying to save lives one at a time through Christ, through counseling, through showing a strong male role model that is acting in a peaceful way. I’ve been to Ferguson. I was there after the riots, I met with the business owners there who lost their businesses, the majority of whom were African American.
Senator Paul: (54:08)
Pastor Brooks was recently interviewed and after the riding in Chicago, lamented that the rioters burned down the local pharmacy and now people in this community were having to drive 15, 20 miles out into the suburbs to get their prescription drugs. It’s unconscionable. It’s not an easy problem to fix. People have tried to fix it, but it’s going on in our cities. And it’s made worse by lawlessness. It’s made worse by the mayhem that people have allowed. And there is an inconvenient truth that we have to face and it’s a political one. The inconvenient truth is that all of these cities are run by Democrats and have been for 50 years. Every one of our major cities run by Democrats, governors, mayors, police chiefs, all Democrats. And you can say it’s a coincidence or you could say, well, all of them? If you look at the murder rate, the top 10 cities that have the highest murder rate in our country, every one of the mayors is a Democrat.
Senator Paul: (55:05)
So we have to get to the bottom of this. And if you live in those cities, we have to figure out some constructive way to make it better. But you have to first realize that the Democrats have failed every one of these cities. And if your city is under attack and you have young children being shot, the chairman mentioned the names of these young children in Louisville two year olds, five-year-olds being shot, the windows and doors. Who’s running cities? We have to do something about it, but painting slogans and graffiti and throwing Molotov cocktails isn’t getting you anywhere. If you live in Portland, instead of throwing Molotov cocktails, instead of trying to burn the federal court house, maybe you should be gathering signatures to have a recall of the mayor who let mayhem and chaos happened in the city. Maybe we should be recalling the mayor of Chicago who’s allowed this to go on.
Senator Paul: (55:56)
It’s been going on decade after decade. Black lives do matter, but if they do matter, do something about it. And those who are at the receiving end of this, the young Black men who were dying in Chicago, dying in the cities, rise up and say, “My goodness,” insanity is doing the same thing over and over again. Quit electing the people who are allowing your cities to go to rotten ruin, who are allowing the local drug store to be burned down, who are allowing the businesses to be burned down that will leave the community and never come back. It is a disaster in our country and people need to let the blame accrue where it will accrue, to the people who’ve been running these cities for 50 years. With regard to who should do this, my preference is that it be done locally.
Senator Paul: (56:46)
The Constitution reserves these police powers to the state and primarily the police power should be exercised in the state. It should be a rare exception and that we have federal officers in our states taking care of things, even as serious as arson, even as serious as attacks. But I do understand when there is mayhem and chaos, somebody got to protect the federal buildings. My preference would be that if that has to happen, that they stay at the federal buildings arresting only those who are committing violence when they commit the violence. And we are aware and careful that allowing federal police and allowing people to federalize police force and send it into our cities, that there are dangers to that. One of the checks and balances of federalism was not to let the executive branch have police, not to have the executive branch in our states.
Senator Paul: (57:38)
So I think we need to be very wary of the possibility for harm by federalizing police powers, sending them into these situations, and there have been some disasters already, perhaps not your department, but the images of the young man being shot with rubber bullet, who had his skull fractured and his face fractured, and maybe ultimately will be disfigured from this while he was simply holding up a speaker, those are terrible symbols. And it’s hard to be a policeman. The federal authorities haven’t necessarily been, I think, steeped in the training that it takes to be able to try to put down violence and at the same time, not get in the way of a peaceful protest. We have to acknowledge though that this a chaotic situation and hasn’t been peaceful protesting. So someone must do something. But I would say that the more constructive way of doing this would be to assess who are the officials, who are the political officials that run these cities and how they let us down.
Senator Paul: (58:39)
And it’s time and time again, Democrats for 50 years running our cities and letting us down. And if you are a family that lives on the South side of Chicago, you need to ask yourself, “Who’s in charge of this city and why aren’t they doing something to protect my children? How come children are still being shot in Chicago? Who’s doing it? Why are my local officials doing nothing?” And the answer is, frankly, Democrats have done nothing for our cities for 50 years. And the people who live in our cities need to make a reassessment of who’s been in charge of our cities. The only question I’d like to finish with would be the idea of police powers and that police power primarily should resign within the states, not the federal government. Do you have a comment on that?
Chad Wolf: (59:24)
Senator, I would say that, again, federal protective service through laws that Congress had passed given notice specific authorities to protect federal facilities. And when we talk about everywhere else in the country outside of Portland, any arrests that need to be made because they’re individuals perhaps targeting or committing violence against those federal facilities are usually done by state and local law enforcement. So I would agree with you, that’s who needs to take, arrest these individuals and work with the US Attorney to charge those individuals. Unfortunately, for 60 days, Portland, we did not see that occur. No one was holding these individuals accountable. Night after night, they would do their violent acts. No one would hold them accountable. DHS was put into a position and we had to start making an arrest. We had to hold these individuals accountable. As I indicated, the top 99 federal arrests are in Portland, all of those have taken place on federal property or within one to two to three blocks of that federal property. There seems to be a misconception that we’re somehow across the city policing the city, that is not the case. We are only targeting individuals that we see, that we know, and that we track take violent activities and criminal activities [inaudible 01:00:46] courthouse.
Speaker 4: (01:00:47)
Senator Rosen: (01:00:48)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and ranking member Peters. [inaudible 01:00:48] please know that our thoughts and prayers are with families of any officers injured in any of these attacks that were going on and let them know that we’re thinking about them at this time. But I do want to talk like everyone else is documented as terrorism because this week we mark one year since the horrific terrorist attack in El Paso, in which 23 Americans lost their lives after a white supremacist targeted the city’s Latino community in a deadly rampage. According to the FBI, white supremacists are the nation’s most significant domestic threat. Statistics show that racially motivated violent extremism accounts for the majority of all domestic terrorist acts since 1994. Unfortunately, instead of [inaudible 01:01:41] the root causes of white supremist violence, this administration is using the domestic terrorism label to crack peaceful protesters exercising their first amendment rights. To justify the presence of federal law enforcement in Portland, [inaudible 01:01:57] and other DHS officials accused demonstrators, made up largely of students, veterans, mothers, nurses, and other Americans cried out for racial justice, of terrorism. President Trump has referred to his fellow Americans as a beehive of terrorists, branding peaceful protesters as terrorists is a tactic commonly used in autocratic societies, not in democracies.
Senator Rosen: (01:02:28)
[inaudible 01:02:28] distract from DHS’s mission to keep Americans safe from violent extremism, whether it’s violence [inaudible 01:02:36] a Latino community in El Paso, a Jewish community at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, or any other Americans. So [inaudible 01:02:45], do you agree with the FBI’s assessment, that the top threat we face from domestic terrorists stems from racially motivated violent extremists, particularly white supremacists?
Chad Wolf: (01:02:59)
Yes, Senator what I would agree with, and I have been on record in our strategy back in September of 2019, does support a growing threat from domestic individuals here in the US who include white supremacist extremism growing here, we see the number of incidents rising. And again, as I outlined, good question, I believe from the ranking member of [inaudible 01:03:24] department’s taking a number of initiatives to address that. Let me just comment really briefly on a comment that you made that I strongly disagree with. DHS law enforcement in no way is cracking down on peaceful protesters in Portland. That is not accurate-
Senator Rosen: (01:03:39)
I’d like to claim my time and follow up on ranking members Peter’s question, thank you. This administration had gutted DHS budget to combat domestic terrorism, including by closing offices and cutting programs. Does the department have the resources it needs to prevent white supremacists from escalating their hateful rhetoric and [inaudible 01:04:03] violence?
Chad Wolf: (01:04:03)
Yes. And again, we have actually increased the number of funding to our grant programs for targeted violence and terrosim prevention. We have a number of individuals dedicated to this mission. And I will just say that from DHS’s perspective, we don’t investigate [inaudible 00:01:04:23], obviously that’s the Department of Justice. What we do is train, information sharing, and outreach to different communities, to make sure that they have the resources they need to do to respond to this. So the department is doing that, we’re doing that in a wholesome way, the grant program is going out, we’ve increased the number of staff in that office. And we are implementing, as I responded to the ranking member on our strategy to address all forms of violent extremism.
Senator Rosen: (01:04:46)
That is good to hear. Can you tell us about the amount of dollars [inaudible 01:04:53] law enforcement-