In an unusual rebuke to the White House, the acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration has told his agents to disregard President Donald Trump’s suggestion last week that law enforcement handle suspects more roughly.
Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg sent an agency-wide email Saturday saying he expected DEA special agents and local law enforcement personnel on cooperative task forces to treat suspects with respect, notwithstanding Trump’s remarks about being "too nice" to those taken into custody.
"The President, in remarks delivered yesterday in New York, condoned police misconduct regarding the treatment of individuals placed under arrest by law enforcement," Rosenberg wrote on Saturday morning. "In writing to you, I seek to advance no political, partisan, or personal agenda. Nor do I believe that a Special Agent or Task Force Officer of the DEA would mistreat a defendant. I know that you would not."
Rosenberg also appeared to brand Trump’s statements as "wrong."
"I write because we have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong. That’s what law enforcement officers do. That’s what you do. We fix stuff. At least, we try," Rosenberg wrote.
During a speech Friday in Long Island on anti-gang efforts, Trump suggested that police are treating suspects too gingerly, particularly when they’re involved in serious crimes.
"When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon — you just see them thrown in, rough — I said, please don’t be too nice," Trump said. "Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head, and they’ve just killed somebody — don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, OK? "
White House spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday on Rosenberg’s email, but press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted Monday that Trump’s comments were in jest.
"I believe he was making a joke at the time," she said. The president’s statement did trigger laughter and applause from some law enforcement officers in attendance.
However, many police organizations took the comments seriously and issued statements distancing themselves from Trump’s comments.
Among the departments expressing disagreement with the president’s statements was the police department for Suffolk County, where Trump spoke.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not immediately respond to questions Tuesday about whether its leaders sent similar messages following Trump’s speech. The FBI declined to comment.
Spokespeople for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who oversees the DEA, did not respond to a request for comment on Rosenberg’s missive.
Rosenberg was named as acting director of the DEA in 2015, under President Barack Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Rosenberg previously served as U.S. Attorney in Alexandria, Virginia, under President George W. Bush and chief of staff to FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by Trump in May.
Rosenberg’s email, which POLITICO received from a source who requested anonymity, was initially reported by The Wall Street Journal.