DEA gains power to 'conduct covert surveillance' for George Floyd protests

The Drug Enforcement Administration obtained the authority to “conduct covert surveillance” to assist law enforcement activities in cities that have been rocked by protests over the past week. Timothy Shea, who was briefly acting U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., before being named acting administrator of the DEA last month, requested the broader powers in a two-page memo. "This memorandum seeks approval for the DEA to provide support on a nationwide basis to enforce federal criminal laws in the wake of protests arising from the death of George Floyd," Shea wrote. “DEA requests this authority on a nationwide basis for a period of fourteen days commencing immediately.” The DEA declined the Washington Examiner’s request for comment, but the memo, obtained by BuzzFeed, showed Associate Deputy Attorney General G. Bradley Weinsheimer approved it on Sunday, agreeing the temporary powers were “necessary for the public safety and welfare.”

George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man, died in police custody last week after a white Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, pinned him down by placing a knee on the back of his neck for several minutes. Footage of the incident set off a wave of outrage, leading to protests in major cities across the nation, some of which became violent as some protesters rioted, looted stores, destroyed property, burned buildings, and clashed with police. Chauvin is facing charges of third-degree murder and manslaughter, but Floyd's family believes the charges should be upgraded to first-degree murder because there may have been "intent." The attorney for Floyd's family said authorities told them "they expect" the other three officers involved in the detainment that led to his death will be charged. Shea, a close confidant of Barr who was involved in the Justice Department’s move to walk back the “unduly high” sentencing recommendation for longtime Trump associate Roger Stone and the agency’s “just and proper” decision to drop the criminal charges against retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, said Floyd’s death “spawned widespread protests across the nation which, in some instances, have included violence and looting” and that “police agencies in certain areas of the country have struggled to maintain and/or restore order.” Shea described how the DEA’s investigative authority is typically “limited to enforcing federal crimes related to drugs,” but noted, “In order for DEA to assist to the maximum extent possible in the federal law enforcement response to protests which devolve into violations of federal law, DEA requests that it be designated to enforce any federal crime committed as a result of protests over the death of George Floyd.”

Shea laid out four temporary powers he wanted DEA special agents and task officers to be able to use “if necessary,” including the authority to conduct “covert surveillance and protect against threats to public safety”; share “intelligence” with federal, state, local, and tribal counterparts; “intervene as federal law enforcement officers to protect both participants and spectators in the protests”; and “engage in investigative and enforcement activity including, but not limited to, conducting interviews, conducting search, and making arrests for violations of federal law.”

Attorney General William Barr hinted over the weekend that the Justice Department would be increasing the role of various law enforcement agencies but did not provide much in the way of specifics. On Saturday, Barr said the Justice Department, "Including the FBI, Marshals, ATF, and DEA, and all of our 93 U.S. Attorneys across the country," would support local efforts and "take all action necessary to enforce federal law.” On Sunday, he said, “Federal law enforcement actions will be directed at apprehending and charging the violent radical agitators who have hijacked peaceful protest and are engaged in violations of federal law." President Trump said at the White House on Monday that he was “mobilizing all available federal resources — civilian and military — to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans.”