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Acting DEA Chief Rebuts Trump’s Remarks on Police Use of Force

The nation’s top narcotics officer repudiated President Donald Trump’s remarks about police use of force, issuing a memo saying Drug Enforcement Administration agents must “always act honorably” by maintaining “the very highest standards” in the treatment of criminal suspects.

By

Jess Bravin

WASHINGTON—The nation’s top narcotics officer repudiated President Donald Trump’s remarks about police use of force, issuing a memo saying Drug Enforcement Administration agents must “always act honorably” by maintaining “the very highest standards” in the treatment of criminal suspects.

Chuck Rosenberg, who as acting DEA chief works for the president, told agency personnel world-wide in a Saturday memo to disregard any suggestion that roughing up suspects would be tolerated. The memo came a day after Mr. Trump told a crowd of law-enforcement officers they shouldn’t be “too nice” when arresting “thugs.”

“The president, in remarks delivered yesterday in New York, condoned police misconduct regarding the treatment of individuals placed under arrest by law enforcement,” begins the memo, titled “Who We Are” and marked “Global Distribution.”

President Donald Trump suggested police should take a rougher approach with people suspected of crimes, in remarks to law enforcement officials in Brentwood, N.Y., about combatting gang activity and illegal immigration. Photo: Getty

Mr. Rosenberg wrote that although he is certain no “special agent or task force officer of the DEA would mistreat a defendant,” Mr. Trump’s comments required a response.

The White House, the Justice Department and the DEA, which is an arm of the Justice Department, declined to comment on the Rosenberg memo.

“I write to offer a strong reaffirmation of the operating principles to which we, as law enforcement professionals, adhere,” the memo says. “I write because we have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong. That’s what law enforcement officers do. That’s what you do. We fix stuff. At least, we try.”

On Friday, Mr. Trump visited Long Island, N.Y., to commend law enforcement efforts against MS-13, an international criminal gang with roots in El Salvador.

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“When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon—you just see them thrown in, rough—I said, please don’t be too nice,” Mr. Trump said, prompting laughter and applause from the audience of law enforcement officers. “Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody—don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, OK?”

Mr. Rosenberg is a longtime Justice Department official who twice served as a U.S. attorney in the George W. Bush administration—first for the Southern District of Texas and later the Eastern District of Virginia. He has prosecuted or supervised prosecutions into crimes including murder, espionage and financial fraud, and as a senior official worked on significant national-security problems.

He served as a senior aide to Mr. Bush’s first attorney general, John Ashcroft, and to James Comey and Robert Mueller, two other former Bush administration officials whose recent investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and any potential involvement of Trump campaign officials, have vexed the president.

Mr. Rosenberg worked for ​Mr. Comey when the latter served as the Justice Department’s No. 2 official, deputy attorney general, and for Mr. Mueller when he was director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. After several years in private practice, Mr. Rosenberg returned to the FBI as chief of staff to Mr. Comey, whom President Barack Obama appointed to succeed Mr. Mueller.

In 2015, Attorney General Loretta Lynch made Mr. Rosenberg acting administrator of the DEA, and he was retained by the Trump administration.

President Trump dismissed Mr. Comey as FBI director in May over displeasure with the Russian investigation. The president has indicated unhappiness with the work of Mr. Mueller, who was appointed a special counsel to pick up the investigation following Mr. Comey’s dismissal.

Several police associations and local police chiefs, who are responsible for enforcing discipline in the ranks, have also condemned Mr. Trump’s remarks on the handling of suspects.

“To suggest that police officers apply any standard in the use of force other than what is reasonable and necessary is irresponsible, unprofessional and sends the wrong message to law enforcement as well as the public,” New York Police Commissioner James O’Neill said last week.

Write to Jess Bravin at jess.bravin@wsj.com

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