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Acting DEA chief rejects Trump's 'joke' about police abuses

Donald Trump suggested officers shouldn't be "too nice" to criminal suspects. The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration warned agents not to listen to him
Image: U.S. President Trump calls on Republican Senators to vote on a healthcare bill to replace the Affordable Care Act at the White House in Washington
U.S. President Donald Trump calls on Republican Senators to move forward and vote on a healthcare bill to replace the Affordable Care Act in the Blue Room of...

In a speech to a law-enforcement audience last week, Donald Trump suggested officers shouldn't be "too nice" to criminal suspects, prompting pushback from a variety of police departments nationwide.

"[W]hen you see these towns and 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," the president 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, okay?"

As it turns out, some of the most striking pushback came from U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Director Chuck Rosenberg, a holdover from the Obama administration, who sent an agency-wide email over the weekend suggesting DEA officials not follow the president's advice. The email, with a subject line that read, "Who we are," said in part:

"The President, in remarks delivered yesterday in New York, condoned police misconduct regarding the treatment of individuals placed under arrest by law enforcement."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.... I write to offer a strong reaffirmation of the operating principles to which we, as law enforcement professionals, adhere."I write because we have an obligation to speak out when something is wrong.... We must earn and keep the public trust and continue to hold ourselves to the very highest standards. Ours is an honorable profession and, so, we will always act honorably."

I don't imagine the email will endear Chuck Rosenberg to Team Trump, which makes it all the more notable that the acting DEA chief was willing to put his concerns in writing.

What's more, NBC News reported this afternoon that the U.S. attorney general seemed to broach the same subject today.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed police to conduct themselves "in a lawful way" and promised to prosecute officers who violate use of force laws while speaking at a conference Tuesday.Sessions' remarks come as President Donald Trump faces continued criticism for encouraging officers to treat suspected criminals more roughly."Community-based policing was a big part of reducing crime…in America, we can't back off that now," Sessions told attendees of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives' (NOBLE) annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia. "We need to get even better at it and more careful at it -- making sure we're doing it in a lawful way," he added.

Not surprisingly, Sessions did not specifically reference Trump's controversial remarks from Friday, but given the broader context -- reminding officers to conduct themselves "in a lawful way," so soon after the president said the opposite -- it's hardly a stretch to draw the connection.

I also wonder whether the president, who's made little secret of his recent frustrations with the attorney general, will take kindly to the remarks.

For her part, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders again said today Trump's comments were intended "as a joke."