Washington — The Trump administration and Oregon's governor have agreed to begin withdrawing federal agents from downtown Portland following nightly violent clashes between law enforcement and demonstrators, the governor said Wednesday. But the White House and Department of Homeland Security said federal law enforcement will leave the city once attacks on the federal courthouse there — which officers were sent to protect — have stopped.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, said the removal offrom the Department of Homeland Security comes after discussions with Vice President Mike Pence and other Trump administration officials.
"After my repeated requests, the federal government has agreed to a phased withdrawal of federal officers that have been deployed to the Mark Hatfield United States Courthouse over recent weeks," she said in a statement. "These federal officers have acted as an occupying force, refused accountability, and brought violence and strife to our community."
Officers with Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement will begin leaving downtown Portland on Thursday, she said. They will also clean up the courthouse and remove graffiti.
"The local Oregon officers of the Oregon State Police will provide protection for free speech and the security of the exterior of the courthouse with the Federal Protective Service," Brown said. "A limited contingent of federal officials, who act as building security year-round, will remain and will stay focused on the interior of the U.S. Courthouse."
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said in a separate statement he and Brown reached a "joint plan to end the violent activity in Portland directed at federal properties and law enforcement officers."
"This plan is possible due to the valiant efforts of the DHS law enforcement officers protecting federal property in Portland from violent activity for the past two months," Wolf said. "The department will continue to maintain our current, augmented federal law enforcement personnel in Portland until we are assured that the Hartfield Federal Courthouse and other federal properties will no longer be attacked and that the seat of justice in Portland will remain secure."
Still, the details of the withdrawal are muddled, as White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews said in a statement that "as the president and Secretary Wolf have both made clear, federal law enforcement officers will not leave until the seat of justice in Portland is secure."
Devin O'Malley, Pence's press secretary, said the vice president told Brown earlier this week federal law enforcement would stay in Portland until the violence directed toward them and the courthouse ceased.
"The vice president was very clear that law and order must be restored in Portland," O'Malley said in a statement. "Vice President Pence welcomes Governor Brown's decision to deploy the Oregon State Police to Portland and is confident that federal, state and local law enforcement can end the violence directed at federal properties and law enforcement officers. and restore peace to the streets of the city."
The Trump administration ramped up the presence of U.S. law enforcement around the courthouse in Portland earlier this month after the city experienced nearly 40 nights of protests in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May.
As the number of federal officers in Portland ballooned, state and local officials denounced their presence and said the officers were escalating tensions with protesters. On several occasions, federal officers guarding the courthouse used tear gas and other tactics to disperse demonstrators, while the Trump administration said the protesters hurled projectiles at officers, set off fireworks at the courthouse and used lasers to blind law enforcement.
The deployment of federal law enforcement from the Department of Homeland Security was dubbed "Operation Diligent Valor" and has included more than 100 officers from the Federal Protective Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection.
President Trump has defended the administration's response to the unrest in Portland and launched a separate initiative through the Justice Department to send officers to other U.S. cities experiencing an uptick in violent crime, despite objections from their leaders.
The president told reporters at the White House on Wednesday the courthouse in Portland is "very well secured" and said officers are "not leaving until they've secured their city."
"If they don't secure their city soon, we have no choice, we're going to have to go in and clean it out," he said. "We'll do it very easily. We're all prepared to do it."
Sara Cook contributed to this report.