(CNSNews.com) - President Trump's order to send active-duty troops to the U.S. Mexico border is a "gray area," Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) told CBS's "Face the Nation" on Sunday.
He pointed to Posse Comitatus, a longstanding law that says federal troops may not be used for law enforcement:
It gets gray when you get to the border. Now, if indeed there was an invasion, which there isn't, clearly, we can defend ourselves. I mean, that's one of the reasons you have a military. But using troops in a border situation, with asylum seekers, is, I think, not appropriate.
If they're being used in support -- President Obama sent people down to support the Border -- Customs and Border Patrol. But all the indications are, this was an overreaction. The president said in a quote -- I think you had in your lead-in there -- "there are 500 bad criminals."
I have never seen any evidence of that. I haven't heard any evidence of that. I think, if that's the case, clearly, it's something we need to take account of. But the question is, can we use force at the border? It seems to be inappropriate, unless there is some serious provocation, which so far doesn't seem to be the case.
Shortly after King spoke, hundreds of illegal aliens tried to storm across the border from Tijuana into the United States. The attempted "invasion," as some call it -- or "incident" as others call it -- prompted Border Patrol agents to fire tear gas to repel the break-in.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection shut down the San Ysidro port of entry for more than four hours late Sunday morning, to prevent illegal aliens from rushing into the country after they overran Mexican police.
Margaret Brennan, the host of "Face the Nation," asked Sen. King if he plans to seek clarification from the Trump administration about the use of U.S. troops along the Mexican border. Defense Secretary James Mattis has said the troops are there only to help CBP with barrier construction, transportation, surveillance and other support missions.
But President Trump said over the weekend he has given the troops authority to use lethal force if necessary. "If they have to they're going to use lethal force, I've given the Ok. I hope they don't have to," he said.
"I'm hoping, through the -- through the Armed Services Committee, to be able to look into not only what the rule is, what the -- what the rules of engagement are that the Defense Department has used," King said. "Also, I want to know how much this is costing. Estimates range from $75 million to a couple of hundred million dollars for something which, by all accounts, doesn't seem to be necessary."
King said he thinks the U.S. troop deployment will end in mid-December, but he's not sure about that.
"Again, the question is, what was the necessity here? We have a very strong border security in terms of Customs and Border Patrol. Do we need -- did we need these extra troops? Was there any indication?
And what is the -- as you say, what are the rules of engagement? What is the cost, and how long is it going to be there? And I think those are all important questions that the Armed Services Committee is going to want to look into. If you're talking about $200 million, that's a lot of money if the justification isn't there."
President Trump tweeted over the weekend:
"Would be very SMART if Mexico would stop the Caravans long before they get to our Southern Border, or if originating countries would not let them form (it is a way they get certain people out of their country and dump in U.S. No longer). Dems created this problem. No crossings!"