Steve July 29, 2020

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday that the federal government had agreed to withdraw its law enforcement officers from Portland, where violent protests have persisted for weeks — but the Department of Homeland Security indicated it would keep its officers on the ground for the time being.

The dueling statements mark another twist in the increasingly fractious communications between local and federal officials about the violence in Portland.

In a series of tweets Wednesday morning, Brown said that the Trump administration had “agreed to withdraw federal officers from Portland” starting Thursday, and that security of downtown would be left to “our local Oregon State Police officers.”

Our local Oregon State Police officers will be downtown to protect Oregonians’ right to free speech and keep the peace. Let’s center the Black Lives Matter movement’s demands for racial justice and police accountability. It’s time for bold action to reform police practices.

— Governor Kate Brown (@OregonGovBrown) July 29, 2020

But in a statement issued around the same time, acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said that his department “will continue to maintain our current, augmented federal law enforcement personnel in Portland until we are assured that the Hatfield Federal Courthouse and other federal properties will no longer be attacked and that the seat of justice in Portland will remain secure.”

“The Department will continue to re-evaluate our security posture in Portland, and should circumstances on the ground significantly improve due to the influx of state and local law enforcement, we anticipate the ability to change our force posture,” Wolf added.

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At the same time, Wolf also said in the statement that he and Brown had agreed to a plan to end the violence in Portland that “includes a robust presence of Oregon State Police in downtown Portland.”

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Wolf added “We don’t want to say we’re leaving and then have the criminals attack the courthouse again.”

He said the breakthrough in achieving the agreement was that “the governor reached out. That’s what changed. I’m glad that she changed her mind.”

“I am glad that Portland has agreed to be a responsible city,” Wolf said.

Hours later, Brown, asked to clarify the deal that had been reached, told NBC News that “the federal government has agreed to a phased withdrawal of federal officers from Portland, beginning Thursday.”

“We have a clear agreement that all Customs and Border Protection and ICE officers will leave downtown Portland on Thursday. Shortly thereafter, they will go home,” Brown said, adding that “a limited contingent of federal officials — who provide security year-round to the federal courthouse — will remain and stay focused on its interior.”

Pence spokesman Devin O’Malley responded to Brown’s original tweet, saying the vice president had told her that “federal law enforcement will remain in Portland until violence directed toward them & the federal courthouse is brought to an end by state & local authorities. @VP was very clear that law & order must be restored in PDX,” O’Malley said.

Earlier this week @Mike_Pence informed Gov. Kate Brown that federal law enforcement will remain in Portland until violence directed toward them & the federal courthouse is brought to an end by state & local authorities. @VP was very clear that law & order must be restored in PDX.

— Devin O’Malley (@VPPressSec) July 29, 2020

Trump claimed on Twitter earlier that Portland would have been “burned and beaten to the ground” without the presence of federal officers, and vowed to have the “federal government go in and do the job” if “the Mayor and Governor do not stop the Crime and Violence.”

…do not stop the Crime and Violence from the Anarchists and Agitators immediately, the Federal Government will go in and do the job that local law enforcement was supposed to do!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2020

Protests in Portland have been going on for two months, but the situation intensified when federal agents — from the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Marshals Service — were deployed to the city beginning the weekend of July 4.

Since then, agents have used tear gas, pepper spray and shot “less lethal” munitions, at times indiscriminately, into crowds. The city saw its largest turnout of the protests this past weekend, around 5,000 people gathered in front of and around the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, which has been heavily guarded by federal agents.

As of Wednesday, at least 114 federal officers were known to be in the city per a court filing by the government.

The Trump administration deployed the unsolicited federal response to the city to counter demonstrations and protests decrying police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

The agents, many wearing dark patches making them difficult to identify which agency they were with, were accused of overly abusive action against the demonstrators, according to a lawsuit several nonprofit organizations, including Protect Democracy, Don’t Shoot Portland and Wall of Moms, filed on behalf of protesters Monday.

The presence of federal agents has been heavily criticized not only by the protesters but also by Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who has repeatedly asked Trump to remove them.

Image: Adam EdelmanAdam Edelman

Adam Edelman is a political reporter for NBC News.

Pete Williams

Pete Williams is an NBC News correspondent who covers the Justice Department and the Supreme Court, based in Washington.

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