Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said on Thursday that a report which claimed Attorney General Bill Barr had suggested charging her with sedition for allowing the ‘CHOP’ zone to be created in her city is ‘chilling and the latest abuse of power from the Trump administration.’
‘The Department of Justice cannot become a political weapon operated at the behest of the President to target those who have spoken out against this administration’s actions,’ Durkan, a former US attorney, said in a statement.
‘That is an act of tyranny, not of democracy.’
‘Ultimately, this is not a story about me. It is about how this President and his Attorney General are willing to subvert the law and use the Department of Justice for political purposes.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (left) said on Thursday that a report which claimed Attorney General Bill Barr (right) had suggested charging her with sedition for allowing the ‘CHOP’ zone to be created in her city is ‘chilling and the latest abuse of power from the Trump administration’
The ‘Capitol Hill Organized Protest was a three-week long ‘occupation’ by anti-racism protesters in Seattle who set up a several-block perimeter where there were no police presence within the boundaries. Two people were killed and several were wounded in shootings in the CHOP
Durkan called the report ‘chilling and the latest abuse of power from the Trump administration.’
‘The Department of Justice cannot become a political weapon operated at the behest of the President to target those who have spoken out against this administration’s actions,’ Durkan, a former US attorney, said in a statement
‘I will continue to fight for what I believe is right, and I will not be distracted by these threats from meeting the challenges facing our great city,’ the Seattle mayor said
‘It is particularly egregious to try to use the civil rights laws to investigate, intimidate, or deter those that are fighting for civil rights in our country.’
Durkan was reacting to a Wall Street Journal report which said Barr told federal district attorneys in a conference call last week that a law against plotting to overthrow the US government was among charges they could use against participants when protests turn violent.
The WSJ reported that he divulged details of two statutes that could help bring about the charges.
In order to prove sedition, they would have to prove imminent danger to government officials or agents as part of a conspiracy.
However without the plot it can fall under expressing violent anti-government sentiment under the First Amendment.
Brian T. Moran, the US attorney for western Washington State, says he is not aware of any investigation into Durkan
Another statute could bring federal charges on someone who obstructs law enforcement responding to unrest.
CNN and the New York Times confirmed the recommendation by Barr.
Two people on the call said Barr has asked whether charges could be brought against Durkan for allowing people to create a police-free zone.
Barr said on Wednesday that the Supreme Court has determined the executive branch has ‘virtually unchecked discretion’ on whether to go ahead with a prosecution.
But a US attorney in Washington State says that he has never heard anyone at the Justice Department discuss bringing charges against Durkan.
‘Throughout this lengthy period of civil unrest, I have had multiple conversations with Department of Justice leadership,’ Brian T. Moran, the US attorney for Western Washington, said in a statement.
‘They have asked for information about protest activity devolving into violence, about federal interests implicated by the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, and about the cases filed in this District regarding federal crimes.
‘At no time has anyone at the Department communicated to me that Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is, was, or should be the subject of a criminal investigation or should be charged with any federal crime related to the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP).
‘As US Attorney I would be aware of such an investigation.’
On July 1, city crews dismantled the Capitol Hill Organized Protest area outside of the Seattle Police Department’s vacated East Precinct
The zone was created after protesters forced Seattle police to abandon the East Precinct
Barr’s DOJ was also reportedly considering criminal charges against top political officials in Portland, Oregon.
The Justice Department explored whether it could pursue either criminal or civil rights charges after clashes erupted there night after night between law enforcement and demonstrators, a department spokesperson said Thursday.
The revelation that federal officials researched whether they could levy criminal or civil charges against the officials – exploring whether their rhetoric and actions may have helped spur the violence in Portland – underscores the larger Trump administration’s effort to spotlight and crack down on protest-related violence.
In early July, Seattle police cleared away the so-called ‘autonomous zone’ set up by protesters in the wake of the May 25 police killing of George Floyd.
The ‘CHOP’, which was later renamed ‘CHAZ,’ or Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, was set up along a few square blocks of the downtown Seattle neighborhood of Capitol Hill on June 8.
Protesters forced Seattle police to clear out of the East Precinct and insisted on keeping the area ‘police-free.’
TIMELINE OF VIOLENCE IN SEATTLE’S CHOP ZONE
June 8: Protesters occupy the area; police abandoned the precinct
June 20: A 19-year-old man is shot dead and a 33-year-old man was wounded
June 24: Nearby businesses and property owners filed a federal lawsuit against the city
June 29: Two teens shot – one fatally – in Jeep at zone’s concrete barriers
June 30: Barricades at Seattle’s cop-free zone are torn down as protesters replace concrete barriers with trash cans and couches
Early hours : Mayor Jenny Durkan demand all barriers are removed after a 525 per cent spike in violent crimes in the area
5am: Police swarm the zone
5:30am: Eyewitnesses say officers have cleared the area
7am: Chief Carmen Best confirms police have taken back precinct
During the CHOP/CHAZ, Durkan appeared to downplay the severity of the protesters’ actions, comparing the incident to a ‘block party’ while insisting that ‘it’s not an armed takeover. It’s not a military junta.’
But there were a total of four shootings either in the zone or in its vicinity, killing two and wounding several others.
The ‘autonomous zone’ was eventually cleared out in early July, though the reverberations of the Floyd protests continue to be felt.
Efforts to cut spending on police – a key demand of anti-racism demonstrators in Seattle and across the nation – claimed an unlikely target: Seattle’s first black police chief, who enjoyed deep support in its minority communities, stepped down in protest.
Carmen Best announced her retirement last month just hours after the City Council voted to cut her annual $285,000 salary by $10,000, as well as the salaries of her command staff, and to trim as many as 100 officers from a force of 1,400 through layoffs and attrition.
She said that she was OK with her pay cut, but not with having to lay off young officers, many of them minorities hired in part to improve the department’s diversity.
‘That, for me – I’m done. Can’t do it,’ she said at a news conference.
‘It really is about the overarching lack of respect for the officers.’
Best, a military veteran who joined the department in 1992, was named chief two years ago.
Durkan initially left her off a list of finalists for the job, but selected her after an outcry from community groups who had long known Best and wanted her to be chosen.
The Trump administration has seized on the violence in Seattle and other cities, including Portland, Oregon, and elsewhere to highlight the need for a stronger presence of law enforcement.
President Trump has called for the Justice Department to heavily punish the protesters, whom he and Barr have labeled extreme left anarchists.
While protest-related crimes usually bring only local charges, under Barr’s guidance district attorneys and federal prosecutors have charged more than 200 demonstrators with crimes that bring heftier penalties.
Asked about the report on Barr, Trump said his government will treat demonstrators toughly.
‘If you have a violent demonstration, yes, we will put it down very very quickly,’ he said, adding: ‘And I think the American public wants to see that.’
According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, about 93 percent of protests this summer were peaceful.
Such a sedition charge has been used with extreme rarity and the most recent example, a case brought against a Michigan armed militia group, failed in 2012 due to weak and ‘circumstantial evidence’.
President Trump has called for the Justice Department to heavily punish protesters, whom he and Barr have labeled extreme left anarchists. ‘If you have a violent demonstration, yes, we will put it down very very quickly,’ he said
Barr’s comments on Wednesday amounted to a striking, and unusual, rebuke of the thousands of prosecutors who do the daily work of assembling criminal cases across the country.
Rejecting the idea that prosecutors should have final say in cases that they bring, Barr described them instead part of the ‘permanent bureaucracy’ and said they were in need of supervision from ‘detached,’ politically appointed leaders who are accountable to the president and Congress.
‘Individual prosecutors can sometimes become headhunters, consumed with taking down their target,’ Barr said.
‘Subjecting their decisions to review by detached supervisors ensures the involvement of dispassionate decision-makers in the process.’