Specifically citing President Donald Trump's refusal to commit to leaving office if he is defeated in November as a potential flashpoint for nationwide demonstrations, Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday sent a letter to four senior Cabinet officials asking them to commit to not deploying any more federal agents to quell domestic protests either before or after the upcoming elections.
The president, Warren writes in the letter (pdf), "has used these forces—who are improperly trained, unsuited for their operation, and have engaged in legally questionable tactics and arrests—in American cities despite clear opposition from governors, mayors, and citizens who are exercising their First Amendment rights in the communities in which these federal personnel have been deployed."
We're less than 100 days out from Election Day & Trump is exploiting the protests to run fear-mongering TV ads. I’m worried that Trump will take more dangerous & outrageous actions to pit federal officers against their own people in the days before & after the 2020 election.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) July 29, 2020
The letter—addressed to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Attorney General William Barr, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt—raises concerns that agents from the respective departments will be used for "future domestic actions against people exercising their right to protest."
"The deployment of federal paramilitary forces against civilians is a historic embarrassment for our nation, and harms the United States' standing in the world," writes Warren. "It has also contributed to the valid concern that President Trump—with the complicity of agency heads that agree to send these personnel—is turning your departments' personnel into tools of authoritarianism."
The potential for President Trump to activate domestic forces as his "personal militia" (as former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge put it) is even more disturbing given his ongoing refusal "to reassure the country that he would abide by the voters' will" and peacefully leave office if he is voted out—resulting in "an unprecedented test of American democracy." I therefore write to seek your assurances that you will not allow the military or civilian forces under your control to be used by the President to suppress dissent and democracy.
In addition to demanding answers from the agency heads on a number of related questions, the Massachusetts Democrat also asks them to "commit to refuse to deploy the military or federal law enforcement forces under your control domestically against peaceful protesters or otherwise against Americans in advance of the November elections, and refuse to deploy in a manner intended to intimidate voters on November 3."