US attorney general William Barr reportedly asked officials at the Justice Department to consider bringing charges against Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan, over her handling of protests earlier this year during which an autonomous police-free zone was set up to keep demonstrators and law enforcement apart.
Mr Barr in a phone call last week asked justice department prosecutors in the civil rights division if Democrat mayor Durkan, herself a former attorney, could be charged for allowing the demonstrations to continue without police oversight, the New York Times (NYT) reported, citing two sources familiar with the conversation.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Mr Barr also encouraged federal prosecutors to charge the demonstrators, who had been protesting against racial inequality and police brutality, with sedition - an extremely serious offence, usually used to punish those who conspire against the state.
Law enforcement representatives told the NYT that Mr Barr's alleged request was highly unusual. Officials at the Justice Department did not immediately respond the publication's request comment; the Independent has contacted the Justice Department for a statement.
Responding to the claims, mayor Durkan, who was elected to office in 2017, said Mr Barr's alleged move was "chilling and the latest abuse of power from the Trump administration." In a statement released in Wednesday, she added: "The Department of Justice cannot become a political weapon operated at the behest of the president to target those who have spoken out against this administration's actions.
"That is an act of tyranny, not of democracy. Ultimately, this is not a story about me. It is about the how this president and his attorney general are willing to subvert the law and use the Department of Justice for political purposes. It is particularly egregious to try to use the civil rights laws to investigate, intimidate, or deter those that are fighting for civil rights in our country."
The president repeatedly attacked mayor Durkan over her handling of the demonstrations, which saw protesters camp out and occupy the area outside Seattle police's East Precinct building in the Capitol Hill area. Demonstrators later dubbed the area as the "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone".
“Radical Left Governor @JayInslee and the Mayor of Seattle are being taunted and played at a level that our great Country has never seen before. Take back your city NOW,” Mr Trump tweeted in June. “If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stooped IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!”
Amid the protests, the president had threatened to send federal agents to Seattle to deal with unrest, as he attempted to ramp up his law and order message ahead of November's election and paint Democratic cities as out of control.
After weeks of demonstrations, those occupying the Capitol Hill area were told by mayor Durkan on 22 June that "it's time for people to go home". All law enforcement had been removed from the area as tensions flared following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, who was killed in police custody.
Demonstrations contined to sweep several cities across the US for months following the killing of Mr Floyd, with protests taking place on a daily basis in some areas.