New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has some concerns about Donald Trump's plan to deploy uninvited federal agents to large urban centers with high populations of people of color just several months out from the most consequential election of his lifetime.
"As we approach the election, again, in just about 105 days from today," Oliver told MSNBC Thursday, "if they are still here, who's to say whether or not these agents could potentially be used to intimidate or otherwise disturb the election process while they're here."
On Wednesday, Trump and Attorney General William Barr announced they planned to send some 200 federal agents to Chicago and 35 to Albuquerque, New Mexico. The new deployments, Barr said, were an extension of a program tagged Operation Legend that had already been initiated with a detail of more than 200 federal agents to Kansas City, Missouri. Barr also lied during Thursday's announcement, claiming the Kansas City deployment had already led to 200 arrests in just two weeks. Bzzzzz—false. As Kansas City Washington correspondent Bryan Lowry noted, "The 200 arrests weren't in a two week span, they weren't part of Operation Legend and they didn't lead to any new federal charges." The Justice Department later admitted Barr's error, saying some arrests had been made by state and local officials long before DOJ had initiated the new operation. Oops.
Beyond that inauspicious start, New Mexico's Oliver noted that the process the Trump administration used for determining where and when to send federal agents had completely lacked transparency and accountability. The administration has floated a series of rolling explanations for deploying federal agents to certain cities, she said, including to quell unrest, protect federal buildings, and most recently to address ongoing criminal activity.
But perhaps most concerning is the fact that the operation’s goals and when it might conclude haven't been explicitly articulated. "There is no timeline, there is no clear communication from the federal government about exactly what they are here to do, whether or not their mission could change, and whether or not they'll be here very short-term or for the long term," Oliver noted.
She added that all of the cities Trump and Barr have chosen just happen to have a high concentration of voters of color. According to 2010 Census data, Chicago is 30% Black and 30% Latinx, Kansas City is 30% Black and 10% Latinx, while Albuquerque is 3% Black and 50% Latinx.
"As secretary of state and the chief election official for the state, I have to be really tuned in to and concerned about what the potential impacts are on our election of this activity," she added. As Oliver noted, sending an entirely unwelcome occupying federal force to locally governed cities that haven't invited them is "completely unprecedented."
In fact, Tom Ridge, the first-ever Homeland Security chief and former Republican governor of Pennsylvania, said, "It would be a cold day in hell before I would consent to a unilateral, uninvited intervention into one of my cities.”
Ridge told radio host Michael Smerconish the Department of Homeland Security was meant to combat global terrorism. "It was not established to be the president’s personal militia,” he added. On MSNBC Thursday morning, Ridge also condemned the president's lack of coordination with local officials in these cities, calling it "wrong and irresponsible."
Indeed, Trump's deployment of secret police to certain American cities has been done with zero coordination with local authorities. In Oregon, local, state, and congressional lawmakers have all explicitly asked Trump to remove his personal militia, which has only served to inflame protesters, growing their numbers from hundreds to thousands over the past couple weeks.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas told NPR Thursday he found out about Trump's occupying force in his own city on Twitter. "I learned about Operation Legend from actually someone on Twitter who had notified me that it was occurring," the Democratic mayor said. "Then I looked at a White House press briefing that had announced that it was, I guess, already in the works."
Both Lucas and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot have said they would welcome federal help in investigating and solving cases involving violent crimes and murders. But they also expressed concern about what Lucas called "mission creep."
Unfortunately, the Trump-Barr mission and its deliverables don't seem the least bit clear, which suggests Trump has deployed federal troops to a host of diverse, Democratic-leaning cities for purely political reasons. The spectacle those forces could create is one possible outcome, but the other is exactly what concerns Oliver—an occupying federal force that serves to intimidate voters of color and just happens to stay right up through Election Day.