Justice Department looking into bringing charges against Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf

March 2, 2018 GMT

The White House said Thursday that the Justice Department is looking into whether the Oakland mayor can face federal charges after she warned illegal immigrants of an impending enforcement sweep.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also called Mayor Libby Schaaf’s warning “outrageous,” as White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly rose to the defense of immigration agents and other Homeland Security employees, saying they are being unfairly tarred.

“You take the face shots every single day from people who don’t have a clue what they’re talking about,” Mr. Kelly said at a 15th anniversary celebration of the Homeland Security Department, which he used to head.

The remarks came amid a back-and-forth between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement chief Thomas Homan and California officials, who accused ICE of “terrorizing” communities by attempting to pick up illegal or criminal immigrants in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Some 150 people were snared but 800 criminals whom ICE had hoped to capture escaped, Mr. Homan said, after Ms. Schaaf got wind of the operation and warned her city’s residents.

“I think it’s outrageous that a mayor would circumvent federal authorities, and certainly put them in danger by making a move such as that,” Mrs. Sanders said at the White House.

She also confirmed that the Justice Department has been asked to see if it can bring charges against Ms. Schaaf, and she said “that’s currently under review.”

The Justice Department declined to comment, but has previously said that it was exploring any options for going after sanctuary cities.

Ms. Schaaf’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. On Twitter this week, though, she said she stood by her warnings.

“I do not regret sharing this information. It is Oakland’s legal right to be a sanctuary city and we have not broken any laws. We believe our community is safer when families stay together,” she said.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, meanwhile, blasted ICE, accusing the agency of “terrorizing communities, including family members who are citizens.”

Protests have erupted outside of ICE’s office in San Francisco this week, writing slogans on the pavement such as “Keep Families Together.”

The Obama administration also faced protests for its immigration policies, but things have gotten much testier with President Trump in office, after he freed immigration agents to pursue a much broader range of illegal immigrants for deportation.

Mr. Kelly, speaking at the 15th anniversary event Thursday, said the department has Mr. Trump’s backing.

“You can bet in the job I’m in now, I spend a great deal of my time making sure people understand who you are, what you do,” he said.

For her part Mrs. Sanders on Thursday chided the Senate for failing to confirm a new commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol.

Kevin McAleenan has been the pending nominee for nearly a year. Mrs. Sanders blamed Democratic leaders for stalling the pick.