Report: AG Barr Asked Federal Prosecutors to Explore Criminal Charges Against Seattle Mayor over Autonomous Zone

SEATTLE, WA - AUGUST 11: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan speaks at a press conference after Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best announced her resignation at Seattle City Hall on August 11, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. Her departure comes after months of protests against police brutality and votes by the City Council …
Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Attorney General William Barr reportedly asked federal prosecutors to explore whether Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (D) should face criminal charges over the “autonomous zone,” otherwise known as Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP), which she eventually shut down via executive order after weeks of escalated violence, robbery, assault, and increased gang activity over the summer.

According to a Wednesday report from the New York Times, the attorney general floated sedition as a possible charge against violent rioters. The outlet added that Barr “has also asked prosecutors in the Justice Department’s civil rights division to explore whether they could bring criminal charges against Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for allowing some residents to establish a police-free protest zone near the city’s downtown for weeks this summer, according to two people briefed on those discussions. ”

However, a department spokesperson denied that Barr issued such a directive. Brian T. Moran, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, also threw cold water on the claim in a statement on Wednesday. No one in the department, he said, communicated with him that Durkan should be subject to a federal crime in relation to her handling of CHOP:

Throughout this lengthy period of civil unrest, I have had multiple conversations with Department of Justice leadership. They have asked for information about protest activity devolving into violence, about federal interests implicated by the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, and about the cases filed in this District regarding federal crimes. At no time has anyone at the Department communicated to me that Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is, was, or should be the subject of a criminal investigation or should be charged with any federal crime related to the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP). As U.S. Attorney I would be aware of such an investigation.

Durkan responded to the report late Wednesday, calling it “chilling and the latest abuse of power from the Trump administration”:

Durkan famously allowed the autonomous zone to stand for weeks as crime festered in and around it.

“It’s very unfortunate that we have yet another murder in this area identified as the CHOP. Two African American men dead at a place where they claim to be working for Black Lives Matter, but they’re gone. They’re dead now,” Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best, who announced her retirement in August, said at the time, emphasizing “multiple other incidents — assaults, rape, robbery, and shootings.”

Durkan’s executive order cited those same incidents, including “numerous reports of narcotics use and violent crime including rape, robbery, assault, and increased gang activity.”

“An increase of 525%, 22 additional incidents, in person-related crime in the area, to include two additional homicides, 6 additional robberies, and 16 additional aggravated assaults (to include 2 additional non-fatal shootings) between June 2nd and June 30th 2020, compared to the same period of time in 2019,” the order added.

Barr has since heavily criticized Democrat leaders for failing to condemn mob violence.

“What makes me concerned for the country is [that] this is the first time in my memory that the leaders of one of our great two political parties, the Democratic Party, are not coming out and condemning mob violence and the attack on federal courts,” the attorney general told lawmakers during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in July.

“Why can’t we just say: ‘Violence against federal courts has to stop?’” he asked. “Could we hear something like that?”

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