President Donald Trump holds up a Bible in front of St John’s Episcopal Church after walking across Lafayette Park from the White House in Washington, DC on June 1, 2020.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP via Getty Images
The Interior Department’s watchdog claimed in a new report Wednesday that police violently cleared protestors from a park outside the White House last June to allow a contractor to install security fencing, not to enable then-President Donald Trump to stage a widely criticized photo op while wielding a Bible.
But the watchdog’s report also faulted the U.S. Park Police for failing to give dispersal warnings to the racial justice protestors that were loud enough for all of them to hear before the clearing of Lafayette Park began on June 1, 2020, with cops using rubber bullets and tear gas to accomplish the task.
And the report by the Interior Department’s inspector general specifically did not address claims of excessive force used against individual protestors and reporters by police, saying “those are the subject of separate inquiries as well as ongoing lawsuits.”
The protests began around Lafayette Park on May 29, 2020, on the heels of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by Minneapolis police.
Police began sweeping the park of protestors at 6:23 p.m. on June 1, 2020, and completed the operation by 6:50 p.m., the inspector general’s report noted.
Eleven minutes later, the report said, Trump “walked from the White House through Lafayette Park to St. John’s Church,” which is nearby.
Riot police chase a man as they rush protestors to clear Lafayette Park and the area around it across from the White House for President Donald Trump to be able to walk through for a photo opportunity in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, during a rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, near the White House, in Washington, June 1, 2020.
Ken Cedeno | Reuters
The Republican president, who had been critical of the protests that swept the nation on the heels of Floyd’s murder, then held aloft a Bible so that television and still cameras could capture the image.
Trump was accompanied on his way through the park by then-Attorney General William Barr, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and U.S. Army General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was dressed in a camouflage combat uniform, not his dress uniform.
The report said that at 7:30 p.m., a contractor began assembling and installing the new fence and completed the work within about five hours.
“The evidence we reviewed showed that the USPP cleared the park to allow a contractor to safely install antiscale fencing in response to the destruction of Federal property and injury to officers that occurred on May 30 and May 31,” wrote Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt in a statement released with the report.
The report backed up Barr’s claim, made less than a week after the incident on CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” that, “This was not an operation to respond to that particular crowd. It was an operation to move the perimeter one block.””
When I came in Monday [June 1] it was clear to me that we did have to increase the perimeter on that side of Lafayette Park and push it out one block,” Barr said on the show. “That decision was made by me in the morning. It was communicated to all the police agencies.”
The attorney general said “the media is missing” that fact in reporting about Trump’s photo op.
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“Moreover, the evidence established that relevant USPP officials had made those decisions and had begun implementing the operational plan several hours before they knew of a potential Presidential visit to the park, which occurred later that day,” Greenblatt wrote.
“As such, we determined that the evidence did not support a finding that the USPP cleared the park on June 1, 2020, so that then President Trump could enter the park.”
President Donald Trump walks with US Attorney General William Barr (L), US Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper (C), Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark A. Milley (R), and others from the White House to visit St. John’s Church after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd June 1, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski | AFP via Getty Images
Trump later Wednesday released a statement thanking Greenblatt “for Completely and Totally exonerating me in the clearing of Lafayette Park!”
“As we have said all along, and it was backed up in today’s highly detailed and professionally written report, our fine Park Police made the decision to clear the park to allow a contractor to safely install antiscale fencing to protect from Antifa rioters, radical BLM protestors, and other violent demonstrators who are causing chaos and death to our cities,” Trump said.
“In this instance, they tried burning down the church the day before the clearing. Fortunately, we were there to stop the fire from spreading beyond the basement—and it was our great honor and privilege to do so. Again, thank you to the Inspector General!”