This summer, as racial justice protests resounded through the streets of Portland, Ore., the Trump administration’s authoritarian crackdown on demonstrations involved the deployment of federal police forces to the city. Aggressive tactics, from tear-gassing protesters to pulling them into unmarked vans, were matched by increasingly heightened rhetoric from President Donald Trump and members of his cabinet, who sought to portray the unrest as a city under siege by violent anarchists.
On July 16, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf visited Portland, decrying the protesters as a “violent mob.” Not only was his visit fiercely criticized by state and local leaders, but new records obtained by American Oversight in response to a Freedom of Information Act request reveal that Wolf’s controversial trip may have cost taxpayers a pretty penny.
American Oversight filed a FOIA request in early September — after Wolf warned Portland officials that the federal government would “have no choice” but to intervene if unrest continued — seeking records of expenditures or reimbursements from Wolf’s July trip, which was combined with meetings in Las Vegas. According to the records released by DHS in response, the cost of the publicity stunt and the full trip may have totaled more than $90,000, mostly from airfare.
Wolf’s visit to Portland was a day trip from Las Vegas, where he spent three nights, meeting with business and casino executives and, according to the records, delivering remarks to the American Legislative Exchange Council. Wolf’s acting chief of staff, John Gountanis, accompanied him on the trip, and they stayed at the Venetian for a relatively modest $102 a night, plus fees.
The records appear to show that the total airfare for the four legs of the journey — from Washington, DC, to Las Vegas, to Portland, and back to Las Vegas and then Washington — was $86,394. Additionally, a table with rates for secure voice calls on July 16 shows a total expense of $5,842.03.
In an effort to portray President Donald Trump as a “law and order” president, the administration’s crackdown on protests over the summer saw federal police, often unidentified, not wearing masks, and lacking in proper training, use force and aggressive tactics on demonstrators who were calling for an end to police violence against Black Americans.
The picture of U.S. cities being occupied by their own federal government drew widespread criticism, and American Oversight has been investigating the authoritarian response. In October, we reported that the Justice Department told us it could locate no records in response to our request for information to back up Attorney General William Barr’s claim that “outside radicals” and “far left extremists” were hijacking the protests. You can read more about our investigation here.
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