The Justice Department’s inspector general opened an investigation into the department’s response to protests in Washington, D.C., and Portland, Oregon, including whether any legal authorities were violated and whether agents failed to properly identify themselves.
“The review will include examining the training and instruction that was provided to the DOJ law enforcement personnel; compliance with applicable identification requirements, rules of engagement and legal authorities; and adherence to DOJ policies regarding the use of less-lethal munitions, chemical agents and other uses of force,” the watchdog’s office said in a statement Thursday.
Under Attorney General William Barr, the department has come under criticism for the federal response to recent protests against police abuse and racism. The administration’s response has included sending federal law enforcement onto the streets of U.S. cities to confront largely peaceful protesters.
The attorney general, a longtime advocate of a muscular presidency, played a key role in forcefully removing peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square outside the White House on June 1. After the area was cleared, Barr walked with Trump and other civilian and military officials to a nearby church so the president could pose for photos while holding a Bible.
Barr’s forces — as well as employees from the Department of Homeland Security — have also been involved in pitched battles with protesters in Portland over the objections of state and local officials, who have filed a lawsuit against the Justice and Homeland Security departments.
The watchdog review comes a day after President Donald Trump said he will expand federal law enforcement operations to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, setting up a rhetorical showdown with state and local leaders, if not an actual one over combating violent crime.
While the president’s moves are seen by supporters as an appropriate response to what they consider lawlessness, they are seen by his opponents as a way of appealing to his conservative base ahead of the 2020 election.
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