Former DHS Secretary: Deployment Of Federal Agents In Portland Is 'Inappropriate'06:26

Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, speaks during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on July 29, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)
Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, speaks during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on July 29, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Astrid Riecken/Getty Images)

There are two kinds of federal interventions happening right now in U.S. cities.

At the direction of the Trump administration, federal agents have moved into Chicago and Albuquerque in a deployment known as Operation LeGend, which started in Kansas City earlier this month.

This comes as multiple inspectors general launched investigations into federal officers at protests in Portland, Oregon. In a statement, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico John C. Anderson said Operation LeGend is not related to the federal response in Portland.

Janet Napolitano, former Secretary of Homeland Security under President Obama and outgoing president of the University of California, says “time will tell” whether these two events are standard cooperation with local agencies to prosecute federal crimes.

“If what the Feds are doing is simply adding more federal officers to existing task forces that have a defined mission and a defined operation, that's one thing,” she says. “It's another thing altogether to send in federal agents not connected with any kind of task force over the objection of local police chiefs, mayors and so forth to do what's been happening in Portland.”

Napolitano says it’s “totally inappropriate” to use Border Patrol agents at protests.

“We've seen in Portland how injecting them into the community has only inflamed the situation there,” she says. “It hasn't helped calm things down.”

Interview Highlights

On whether she thinks Operation LeGend and federal agents in Portland are different

“... We have to wait and see whether in fact how Operation Legend was represented is, in fact, how it's being carried out. But if it's simply beefing up existing federal-local task forces and they have a defined need and defined mission in those communities, that's a different kind of operation.”

On the use of Border Patrol agents to respond to protests in Portland

“... You have to ask what are those border agents not doing in order to be redeployed to Portland? Last time I looked, Portland is not on the border. And, you know, the Department of Homeland Security is not ... the president's militia force. It's not intended to be that. It's not designed to be that.”

On whether politics is driving the Trump administration's decision to use Operation LeGend as law and order branding for his reelection campaign


“Oh, I think you can see pretty clearly that this is part of the law and order positioning of President Trump. You know, it's so obvious, and that just adds to the inappropriateness of what's going on in Portland.”

On if there’s any recourse for members of Congress who are opposed to federal intervention in cities

“They can do a couple of things. They could put language in the appropriations bills that forbid the use of taxpayer dollars for operations like the Portland operation. They could put in restrictive language in the one of the authorizing bills, but that would require both houses of Congress to act together. And I'm not sure in the current climate that the Senate would go along with the House in this area.”

On whether the University of California system will be fully online for the 2021 spring semester in addition to the fall semester

“We sincerely hope not. But we're planning through that scenario. And unless there is a vaccine, you know, it is a good possibility that the kind of remote or online learning that we will be using for the beginning of the fall will continue into the spring. It really depends on what the situation is and how we can safely reopen the campuses.”

On her thoughts about universities that are taking a different approach and deciding to have in-person classes this fall

“Yeah, they may be different. They may have different incidents of the virus in their locale. I think part of it depends on what health guidance they're being given by their local health departments. The guidance we're getting from our county health departments is guidance that really requires us to begin the fall term online.”

On why she thinks, as former Democratic governor of Arizona from 2003 to 2009, that the state is seeing such a spike in coronavirus cases right now

“Well, I think you're seeing such a spike because they didn't act swiftly to shut things down. And then when they did, they opened up too rapidly. They never created kind of a public safety, community safety culture that, you know, other states did. ... I haven't seen today's numbers or yesterday's numbers, but if they're continuing to spike, I think the governor needs to seriously consider some kind of shut down order or at the very least, empower the mayors of the big cities in Arizona to do that.”

On presidential candidate Joe Biden leading the polls in Arizona

“I think Arizona has changed and is changing and it's changing demographically. And that's having an effect on the polls. But I think that while it looks very good for Joe Biden there right now, he has to, in a way, build up his lead because the state tends to settle on the Republican side of things. So you've got to have that buffer there. … I very much believe Arizona is in play for this fall.”

Chris Bentley produced and edited this story for broadcast with Tinku RaySerena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on July 24, 2020.


Jeremy Hobson Twitter Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.