DC’s Lafayette Park was not cleared for Trump’s Bible photo-op, watchdog finds

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Protesters were not forced out of a park near the White House last year so then-President Donald Trump could pose for photos outside a graffitied church, an internal government investigation has found.

Interior Department Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt released a 37-page report Wednesday that said the violent clearout at Lafayette Park had nothing to do with Trump’s photo op — concluding that a contractor installing “antiscale fencing in response to destruction of property and injury to officers” the previous two days was instead to blame.

The demonstration on June 1, 2020, was sparked by the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

Minutes after the protesters were forced from the park, Trump walked across the same area — trailed by reporters and news cameras — to deliver a brief speech while holding up a Bible in front of historic St. John’s Church, which had been vandalized the day before.

Democrats and other Trump critics accused Attorney General Bill Barr and others in the administration of ordering the protesters to be cleared so the president could stage his walk to the church and project an image of strength amid the chaos.

However, Greenblatt stated that US Park Police officials “had begun implementing the operational plan several hours before they knew of a potential Presidential visit to the park”. The watchdog added that Barr’s visit to Lafayette Square approximately 20 minutes before the dispersal began “had no influence” on the timetable set out for the operation.

In one exchange recounted in the report, an unnamed Park Police operations commander says Barr asked him: “Are these people still going to be here when POTUS [President of the United States] comes out?”

“The USPP operations commander told us he had not known until then that the President would be coming out of the White House and into Lafayette Park,” the report reads. “He said he replied to the Attorney General, ‘Are you freaking kidding me?’ and then hung his head and walked away. The Attorney General then left Lafayette Park. The USPP operations commander denied that the Attorney General ordered him to clear Lafayette Park and H Street.”

The report determined that the decision to boot the protesters was justified, but that law enforcement agencies on the scene failed to effectively communicate with each other and failed to communicate warnings to the protesters about the impending crackdown.

Several different law enforcement agencies moved ahead of schedule and started engaging with protesters before the protesters had been sufficiently warned.

The report details how a contingent from the Bureau of Prisons arrived to the scene late that day, didn’t receive a full briefing and used pepper pellets on protesters “contrary to the USPP incident commander’s instructions.”

The report also points out that “the USPP and the Secret Service did not use a shared radio channel to communicate” and determines that “weaknesses in communication and coordination may have contributed to confusion during the operation.”

The document concludes that Park Police commanders viewed DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s curfew as irrelevant. It cites an incident commander as saying, “We were not enforcing the Mayor’s curfew. We’re a Federal entity. We don’t work directly for the Mayor.”

It continues that commanders on the scene “did not believe protesters would comply with the Mayor’s June 1 curfew order or that waiting would necessarily reduce unrest.”

With Post wires

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