The Trump Administration’s Controversial ‘Operation Legend’ Program

In the summer of 2020, the Trump administration launched Operation Legend, a federal law enforcement program that dedicated hundreds of agents to “fight violent crime” in several U.S. cities, in what critics saw as a political effort to bolster the president’s “law and order” reelection campaign during a time of heightened unrest. American Oversight is investigating the Trump administration’s politicization of federal law enforcement resources and the origins and implementation of the program.

On July 8, 2020, Attorney General William Barr announced the launch of Operation Legend, a Justice Department initiative that assigned federal officers within local law enforcement jurisdictions to “fight the sudden surge of violent crime” in cities “plagued by recent violence.” The announcement came at a time when racial justice protests had been sweeping the nation, and was criticized as a scheme by then-President Trump to gain support as the “tough on crime” candidate during his reelection campaign. Many local officials in Operation Legend’s target states came out against the surge in resources and deployments in what was merely a rebranding of a pre-existing federal law enforcement mission called Operation Relentless Pursuit. 

The Operation Legend program began with the deployment of more than 100 U.S. Marshals and federal agents to Kansas City, Mo., and was named after LeGend Taliferro, a 4-year-old boy who was shot and killed on June 29. In the weeks and months that followed, the operation was expanded to Albuquerque, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Memphis, St. Louis, and Indianapolis.

Two weeks after its launch, Barr falsely stated that Operation Legend had made 200 arrests in Kansas City, a claim that was quickly called into question by local authorities. The Justice Department later issued a correction: Those arrests were made through efforts by Operation Relentless Pursuit, which had also operated in Kansas City. 

According to an Operation Legend final report announced by Barr on Dec. 23, his last day in office, two Justice Department offices spent roughly a combined $69 million for 290 federal officers in the nine cities. Barr also said that more than 6,000 arrests had been made “since Operation Legend’s launch” (although that number has not been confirmed) and that 1,500 defendants had been charged with federal crimes.

In 2020, American Oversight began investigating the origins and implementation of Operation Legend, including whether and to what extent it was used for political purposes during the final months before the election. We filed dozens of Freedom of Information Act and state and local public records requests for documents that could shed light on the program, including White House communications with local officials in Albuquerque, Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, and Milwaukee, as well as Justice Department records detailing how funding for Operation Legend was spent. 

In August, we sent a FOIA request to multiple agencies, including the Justice Department, seeking the release of Operation Legend’s arrest records; in November, the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) told us that it had no responsive documents.

Documents we uncovered in our investigation contained more than 250 forms related to the deputations of law enforcement officers. They also reflect the operation being a rebranding of Operation Relentless Pursuit: On July 30, 2020, a USMS official wrote in an email that the operation was “a continuation of [Operation Relentless Pursuit] even though it is now being referred to as Operation Legend.” And on Sept. 11, a USMS official noted in an email regarding Milwaukee deputations of local law enforcement, “These are for the group application for Operation Legend/ Relentless Pursuit.”

Other documents we obtained point to a lack of coordination with local officials in Operation Legend cities. In one email exchange from July 9 — the day after the operation was launched in Kansas City — White House intergovernmental affairs staffer William Crozer connected John Stamm, the Kansas City mayor’s chief of staff, with a Justice Department official, writing that Stamm “had some questions around Operation Legend.” This apparent lack of coordination occurred in other states targeted by Operation Legend. Emails we obtained from the Illinois governor’s office show that the office requested a meeting with then-acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf the day after the Chicago Tribune reported that 150 DHS agents would be sent to Chicago through Operation Legend. Wolf’s office said that he did not have time in his schedule, and that there was “no surge” of federal officers in Chicago.

American Oversight will continue to investigate Operation Legend’s politicized origins and how the program was undertaken. Among the records we are still seeking are directives and guidance about Operation Legend’s implementation and strategy from the Department of Homeland Security, as well as Justice Department communications and arrest and deployment records. We have also requested the release of communications sent between federal and local officials in several states and cities targeted by Operation Legend.

Related Documents

November 6, 2020

Chicago Mayor’s Office Emails Regarding Operation Legend

Illinois - Chicago Mayor's Office
Agency Record
November 5, 2020

Wisconsin Governor’s Office Communications Regarding Operation Legend

Wisconsin Office of the Governor
Agency Record
October 19, 2020

Illinois Governor’s Office Emails with Federal Officials Regarding Operation Legend

Illinois - Office of the Governor
Agency Record
October 19, 2020

No Records Response from New Mexico Governor’s Office Regarding DOJ and DHS Emails

New Mexico Office of the Governor
Agency Reply
October 14, 2020

No Records Response from Cleveland, Ohio, CDP Regarding Emails with White House

Ohio - Cleveland Division of Police
Agency Reply
October 8, 2020

DHS Records in Response to Request for Numbers of Personnel Deployed in Operation Legend

Department of Homeland Security
Agency Record
October 7, 2020

No Records Response from Chicago Police Department Regarding Emails with the White House

Illinois - Chicago Police Department
Agency Reply
October 5, 2020

Records Request to Wisconsin Governor’s Office Seeking DOJ and DHS Emails

Wisconsin Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
October 2, 2020

Records Request to Illinois Governor’s Office Seeking DOJ and DHS Emails Regarding Operation Legend

Illinois - Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
October 2, 2020

Records Request to Kansas City Mayor’s Office Seeking DOJ and DHS Emails

Missouri - Kansas City Mayor's Office
FOIA Request
October 2, 2020

Records Request to New Mexico Governor’s Office Seeking DOJ and DHS Emails

New Mexico Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
September 21, 2020

Wisconsin Governor’s Office Emails with White House Concerning Operation Legend

Wisconsin Office of the Governor
Agency Record
September 15, 2020

Illinois Office of the Governor Records of Communications with the White House Regarding Operation Legend

Illinois - Office of the Governor
Agency Record
September 13, 2020

No Records Response from Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office Regarding Emails with the White House

Wisconsin - Milwaukee County
Agency Reply
September 4, 2020

Kansas City Mayor’s Office Emails with White House Concerning Operation Legend

Missouri - Kansas City Mayor's Office
Agency Record
September 2, 2020

No Records Responsive from ICE Regarding Use of Force Guidelines and Deployment Orders at Protests

Department of Homeland Security, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Agency Reply
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Wisconsin Governor’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

Wisconsin Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to the Chicago Mayor’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

Illinois - Chicago Mayor's Office
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Chicago Police Department Seeking Emails with the White House

Illinois - Chicago Police Department
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Illinois Governor’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

Illinois - Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Kansas City Mayor’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

Missouri - Kansas City Mayor's Office
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Missouri Governor’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

Missouri - Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Albuquerque Police Department Seeking Emails with White House

New Mexico - Albuquerque Police Department
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Cleveland Mayor’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

Ohio - City of Cleveland Mayor's Office
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Cleveland Division of Police Seeking Emails with White House

Ohio - Cleveland Division of Police
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Ohio Governor’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

Ohio Office of the Governor
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Milwaukee Mayor’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

Wisconsin - Milwaukee Mayor's Office
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Milwaukee Police Department Seeking Emails with White House

Wisconsin - Milwaukee Police Department
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Request to Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

Wisconsin - Milwaukee County
FOIA Request
August 31, 2020

Records Request to Albuquerque Mayor’s Office Seeking Emails with White House

New Mexico - Albuquerque Mayor's Office
FOIA Request
August 13, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Directives Related to DOJ’s Operation Legend

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
August 13, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Documents Reflecting Violent-Crime Reduction Strategy of Operation Legend

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
August 13, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Numbers of Personnel Deployed in Operation Legend

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
August 13, 2020

FOIA to DHS Seeking Operation Legend Arrest Data

Department of Homeland Security
FOIA Request
August 5, 2020

FOIA to DOJ for Records Regarding Operation Legend Funding

Department of Justice, DOJ - Office of Justice Programs
FOIA Request
August 5, 2020

FOIA to DOJ U.S. Attorneys’ Office Seeking Communications About Operation Legend

Department of Justice, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys
FOIA Request
August 5, 2020

FOIA to DOJ Criminal Division Seeking Communications Regarding Operation Legend

Department of Justice, DOJ - Criminal Division
FOIA Request
August 5, 2020

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Communications Regarding Operation Legend

Department of Justice, DOJ - Office of Information Policy
FOIA Request
August 5, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Operation Legend Arrest Data

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DOJ - Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, DOJ - Criminal Division, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration
FOIA Request
August 5, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Documents Reflecting Violent-Crime Reduction Strategy of DOJ’s Operation Legend

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DOJ - Criminal Division, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Investigation, DOJ - Federal Bureau of Prisons, DOJ - Office of Justice Programs, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration
FOIA Request
August 5, 2020

FOIA to Multiple Agencies Seeking Directives Related to DOJ’s Operation Legend

Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, DHS - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, DOJ - Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, DOJ - Criminal Division, DOJ - Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, DOJ - Office of Information Policy, DOJ - Office of Justice Programs, DOJ - U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration
FOIA Request