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Democratic coalition demands answers from Barr on unidentified officers in D.C.

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Washington — A group of Democrats in the House and Senate are demanding answers from Attorney General William Barr about unidentified federal law enforcement officers seen near the White House as part of the federal response to protests in the nation's capital sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren and Congressmen Hakeem Jeffries and Raja Krishnamoorthi sent a letter to Barr on Thursday requesting information about the security forces. A Justice Department spokesperson said they were from the Bureau of Prisons, the lawmakers said, though their affiliation was not clearly displayed.

"The use of federal security forces to oversee protests without specific agency identifiers or badge numbers runs counter to the need for accountability, transparency, and oversight that is sorely needed in the local and national response to the peaceful domestic protests that followed the unjust killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, 2020," they wrote.

The group said they plan to continue to investigate this matter. Krishnamoorthi is a subcommittee chair on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Among the questions the Democrats posed to Barr is whether the Bureau of Prisons officers dispatched to Washington, D.C., are federal employees or private contractors. The lawmakers also asked Barr to alter the uniforms of officers assisting in Washington "to provide for their identification in the event of misconduct," and provide responses to their questions by June 10.

During a press conference at the Justice Department on Thursday, Barr and Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal addressed the sightings and reports that the officers declined to identify the agency they worked for.

Barr told reporters the bureau's Special Operations Response Teams are "used frequently" in response to civil disturbances or natural disasters like hurricanes and said federal officers don't typically wear badges with their names.

"I could understand why some of these individuals simply wouldn't want to talk to people about who they are if that in fact was the case," he said.

Carvajal said he did not know of specific Bureau of Prisons personnel being told not to identify themselves to members of the press and public, as has been reported, and acknowledged he should have "done a better job" of clearly marking the agency.

"What I attribute that to is probably the fact that we normally operate within the confines of our institution and we don't need to identify ourselves," he said. "Most of our identification is institution-specific and probably wouldn't mean a whole lot to people in D.C."

Hundreds of federal officers have descended on the nation's capital after President Trump pledged to tamp down on the unrest in Washington, which reached a fever pitch Sunday night when a fire broke out at a parish office of the historic St. John's Church, located across from the White House. While the protests have largely been described as peaceful, some participating in the demonstrations vandalized statues and monuments around the district and ransacked businesses.

The protests have not been confined to Washington, but have erupted in cities from coast to coast. Mr. Trump vowed Monday to send the U.S. military to states to respond to protesters and directed Barr to oversee federal law enforcement efforts responding to protests in Washington. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Monday all of the department's law enforcement components — the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals, Bureau of Prisons and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms — were deployed.

In addition to federal law enforcement officers, roughly 1,200 members of the D.C. National Guard have been mobilized, and another 3,300 National Guard soldiers and airmen from 10 other states are supporting those efforts. Roughly 1,600 active duty troops at bases in the Washington, D.C., region are also ready to assist in anticipation of more demonstrations expected Saturday and Sunday.

While the officers photographed on streets outside the White House did not have their affiliation clearly displayed, patches sewn on their shirts match those worn by Bureau of Prisons units.

A senior U.S. official said that teams from federal agencies were brought to the D.C. area in a hurry, and some do not have traditional identifiers. The official said that they will identify themselves in a "custodial" situation, that is, if they detain individuals.

In addition to the coalition of Democratic lawmakers in both chambers requesting information on the presence of unidentified federal officers, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Mr. Trump seeking more information.

"We are concerned about the increased militarization and lack of clarity that may increase chaos," she wrote, adding that she is seeking a comprehensive list of the agencies involved and clarifications about their roles and responsibilities.

"Congress and the American people need to know who is in charge, what is the chain of command, what is the mission, and by what authority is the National Guard from other states operating in the capital," Pelosi added.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Congressman Don Beyer of Virginia both called the matter "unacceptable."

Stefan Becket, Alan He, Clare Hymes, Andres Triay and David Martin contributed to this report.

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