Attorney General William Barr told Congress on Tuesday that he had "no doubt" violence would spread to other communities if rioters in Portland, Ore., succeeded in destroying the federal courthouse in the city.
He was responding to Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who had asked about constituent concerns that violent demonstrations could metastasize to other areas of the country.
"If you did what my Democrat colleagues were asking -- if you merely abandoned that federal property, allowed it to be overrun, allowed the people inside to be harmed, is it your view then that Antifa and other violent people engaged in these acts would simply stop, would merely accept that as their sole victory?" Gaetz asked during Tuesday's House Judiciary Committee hearing.
"Or is it your expert opinion ... that they wouldn't stop, that they would go to the next town, to the next community and potentially inspire more violence?"
Barr responded: "There's no doubt in my mind that it would spread." His comments came as Democratic politicians accused the administration of provoking violence by maintaining a presence in Portland.
Earlier in the hearing, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., said Trump was trying to "divert attention" from the coronavirus by creating "the impression that there is violence -- that he must send in federal troops, and that the American people should be afraid of other Americans and trust the president because he's going to send in troops to American cities -- and that's how he hopes to win the election."
"You know, it's one thing to fight crime with joint task forces. That involves the cooperation of state and local officials -- but the governor of Oregon and the mayor of Portland has asked that the federal troops leave, because the reaction has actually been in reverse proportion. People are showing up because the troops are there. And I'd like to say that so many of them, I would say most of them are nonviolent."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler similarly pressed Barr on whether he sought to use law enforcement as a "prop" for Trump's re-election efforts.
Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan, whose agents are in Portland, has labeled as "outrageous" the idea that the federal presence was exacerbating unrest in the city. Morgan previously told Fox News that "the minute" his federal agents leave, the country will see the courthouse go up in flames.
In the wake of George Floyd's death, protests -- including from Antifa -- popped up around the country and sometimes turned violent or destructive. That included destruction of public property and attacks on law enforcement. As Barr and Morgan have noted, several CBP agents were injured in the Portland unrest.
For example, three federal agents may suffer permanent blindness after allegedly encountering laser attacks from the crowd.