WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) — President Donald Trump and other officials on Wednesday formally announced the deployment of “hundreds” of federal agents to fight crime in Chicago as part of Operation Legend.

U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch Jr. joined President Trump and Attorney General William Barr to announce the initiative.

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Officials described Operation Legend as “a sustained, systematic and coordinated law enforcement initiative in which federal law enforcement agencies work in conjunction with state and local law enforcement officials to fight violent crime.”

“The citizens of Chicago are citizens of the America, and they have the same right as every other American to live in safety, dignity, and peace,” President Trump said.

Using the same alarmist language that he has employed in the past to describe illegal immigration, President Trump painted Democrat-led cities as out of control and lashed out at the “radical left,” even though criminal justice experts say the increase in violence in some cities defies easy explanation.

“In recent weeks there has been a radical movement to defend, dismantle and dissolve our police department,” Trump said at a White House event, blaming the movement for “a shocking explosion of shootings, killings, murders and heinous crimes of violence.”

“This bloodshed must end,” he said. “This bloodshed will end.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who earlier had threatened to go to court to block President Trump from deploying unnamed federal agents in Chicago without her permission, said she supports the expansion of Operation Legend, noting the additional agents coming to Chicago will be overseen by Lausch, a friend of Lightfoot’s for more than 20 years. Lightfoot herself is a former federal prosecutor.

“If those agents are here to actually work in partnership on support of gun violence and violent cases, plugging into existing infrastructure of federal agents, not trying to play police in our streets, then that’s something different, and that may add value, but the proof is going to be in the pudding,” she said.

Trump has blamed Lightfoot for a recent surge in gun violence in Chicago, and suggested he had no choice but to intervene.

“No mother should ever have to cradle her dead child in her arms simply because politicians refused to do what is necessary to secure their neighborhood and to secure their city,” he said Wednesday.

However, Lightfoot said the president is simply trying to distract from his own failures.

“The president has been on a campaign now for some time against Democratic mayors across the country,” she said. “The president is trying to divert attention from his failed leadership on COVID-19. He has failed, he has failed, he has failed.”

The mayor said if Trump truly wants to help cities tackle violent crime, he would help Congress pass more stringent gun control laws.

“We need universal background checks, we need to close the gun show loophole, we need federal prosecutions of straw purchasers, we need to empower the ATF to actually go after federally-licensed gun dealers who are constantly selling guns to straw purchasers and gang members,” she said.

The decision to dispatch federal agents to American cities is playing out at a hyperpoliticized moment when Trump is trying to show that he stands with law enforcement and depict Democrats as weak on crime. With less than four months to go before Election Day, Trump has been serving up dire warnings that the violence would worsen if his Democratic rival Joe Biden is elected in November, as he tries to win over voters who could be swayed by that message.

The operation was launched in Kansas City, Missouri on Wednesday, July 8, as President Trump promised to assist cities that have seen spates of violence. The operation is named for LeGend Taliaferro, who was shot and killed as he slept early on June 29 in Kansas City.

Under the operation, Attorney General Barr has directed the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to “significantly increase” resources in Chicago, as well as Albuquerque, amid high levels of gun violence and other violent crime.

“A top priority as federal prosecutors is to reduce violent crime, particularly in a large urban area like Chicago,” U.S. Attorney Lausch said in a news release. “As part of Operation Legend, additional federal resources will assist our office and our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to increase prosecutions of trigger-pullers, drug traffickers, carjackers, and those who illegally traffic, use, and possess firearms. We will use these new resources and every other available federal law enforcement tool to reduce the unacceptable level of violent crime in Chicago.”

The release noted that homicides in Chicago are up 51 percent compared with 2019, and more than 60 people were shot and 14 killed last weekend.

“In Chicago, the Department of Justice will supplement state and local law enforcement agencies by sending more than 100 federal investigators from the FBI, DEA, and ATF to the city,” the release said. “Under the leadership of U.S. Attorney Lausch, these investigators will complement the work already underway by existing joint federal, state and local task forces focused on combatting Chicago’s violent criminals, gangs, and drug trafficking organizations.”

More than 100 members of the U.S. Marshals Great Lakes Task Force will direct operations in Chicago to identify wanted gang members, gun violators, and violent criminals, the release said. The Department of Homeland Security investigations division will also dispatch 100 agents who are already stationed in Chicago for the mission.

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Meanwhile, the ATF has deployed its national Crime Gun Intelligence Mobile Command Vehicle to assist police with crime scene investigations and ballistic evidence analysis.

The Bureau of Justice Assistance will make $3.5 million available to reimburse the city and the CPD or the federal agents’ work. The Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services Office has also made $9.375 million available to the CPD so it can hire 75 officers.

The arrival of federal agents in Chicago has raised concern and alarm, particularly amid reports of federal agents’ actions in Portland, Oregon.

In that city, federal officers in military-style uniforms were seen putting protesters into unmarked cars. Reports state those agents have been picking up protesters without cause.

“What we saw the president and the attorney general do in Portland is a travesty and an unconstitutional intrusion, and trampling on the rights of individuals who were unlawfully detained and arrested, sometimes overnight,” Lightfoot said. “That’s not democracy that we saw unfolding on the streets of Portland as a result of this federal action. That’s what we call tyranny and dictatorship, and we are not having it in Chicago.”

The mayor said, if Trump does try to use federal agents in Chicago in a similar manner to how they’ve been used in Portland, she’s prepared to go to court to stop him.

“I’m glad to see that the president got the message. I’m glad to see that he realized what he did in Portland was a grave abuse of his presidential power. Now, that doesn’t mean he’s not going to try it here in Chicago, and we have to remain diligent,” she said.

The mayor added: “If those agents are here to actually work in partnership on support of gun violence and violent cases, plugging into existing infrastructure of federal agents, not trying to play police in our streets, that’s something different, and that may add value, but the proof is going to be in the pudding.”

Gov. JB Pritzker echoed the mayor’s words Wednesday.

“I will not stand for efforts that undermine civil rights and civil liberties, like what’s happening in Portland, conducted anonymously under the cover of darkness and with no transparency, any effort from the federal government to undermine the basic freedoms,” Pritzker said.

The governor said he has tried to reach the Department of Homeland Security but said that effort didn’t succeed.

“The acting director Acting Secretary of Homeland Security (Chad Wolf) did not return my phone call and said that he would not over the next 48 hours. So that’s what happened in that call,” Pritzker said. “Yesterday I have worked tirelessly over the last few days, speaking with not only the mayor but the Attorney General to coordinate activities that we might engage in, if we need to push back on some force of the federal protective services that might arrive the kinds of forces that are on the ground in Portland.”

Pritzker admitted that there are other federal law enforcement agencies assisting with local efforts.

“We know that the ATF, the FBI, the DEA are coming to and are in Chicago, engaged in activities to help our local law enforcement. I encourage that we need to get violence and criminal enterprises shut down,” Pritzker said.

On Monday evening, protest marches were held in the downtown area amid early reports that the federal agents were coming to Chicago.

“He’s been talking about it for years. It’s not something new,” activist Niko Eastwind said Monday. “Now he’s acting on it.”

But there has also been a call for federal assistance in Chicago on behalf of the union representing police officers. Last weekend, Chicago Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara Jr.’s issued a letter to President Trump essentially extending the invitation to federal agents.

The Trump administration is facing growing pushback in Portland. Multiple lawsuits have been filed questioning the federal government’s authority to use broad policing powers in cities. One suit filed Tuesday says federal agents are violating protesters’ 10th Amendment rights by engaging in police activities designated to local and state governments.

Oregon’s attorney general sued last week, asking a judge to block federal agents’ actions. The state argued that masked agents had arrested people on the streets without probable cause and far from the U.S. courthouse that’s become a target of vandalism.

 

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CBS 2 Chicago Staff