DOJ looked into the possibility of charges against local officials in Portland

Justice Department prosecutors looked into the possibility of bringing criminal or civil charges against local officials in Portland, Oregon, over their handling of weeks of protests that for a period laid siege to a federal courthouse and other buildings, according to Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman.

The idea is part of Attorney General William Barr’s push for aggressive action by federal prosecutors against violence surrounding nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May.

Typically, in times of local unrest, local prosecutors take the lead in bringing charges against people carrying out violence. But Barr has pushed for greater use of federal prosecution, even in relatively minor cases usually left up to local district attorneys to enforce. The Justice Department has announced charges against more than 250 people related to civil unrest since June.

Local officials in Portland and the Trump administration have repeatedly clashed over how to handle the city’s protests against police brutality and racial injustice, which have been raging since a few days after Floyd’s death.

Tension escalated after the Trump administration dispatched federal agents to the city as part of an effort to guard federal buildings and monuments. Protesters clashed with those forces, resulting in injuries on both sides.

Mayor Ted Wheeler and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown called for disbanding the federal forces so they could address the protests themselves. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, asking a judge to declare the federal officers’ actions unlawful.

In late July, Brown and the Trump administration reached an agreement to withdraw federal officers. But the protests — and clashes between police and demonstrators — have continued.

“Do you seriously wonder, Mr. President, why this is the first time in decades that America has seen this level of violence?” Wheeler asked at a news conference late last month.

“It’s you who have created the hate and the division. It’s you who have not found a way to say the names of Black people killed by police officers even as people in law enforcement have.”

Barr has railed against some left-leaning district attorneys whose views on criminal enforcement have prompted fewer such prosecutions. In a nationwide conference call with prosecutors, the attorney general recently brought up the possibility of charging some violent protesters under a rarely used sedition law, which makes it a crime to seek to overthrow the US government.

It’s a theme that has gained traction in conservative media, which Barr follows closely, and he is known to focus on the issue from time to time. Still, some federal prosecutors were taken aback last week when the attorney general brought up the idea.

This story has been updated with additional information.

CNN’s Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.