An Inspector General’s report released Wednesday found that when law enforcement cleared Lafayette Park in front of the White House last June, security was the top priority – not a photo opportunity for Donald Trump.
One week after the death of George Floyd and following days of unrest between Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters and law enforcement, Trump made headlines for walking through a recently cleared area in front of the White House to pose for a picture in front of St. John’s Church while holding a Bible.
Groups like BLM and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) later sued Trump and his Attorney General Bill Barr for forcefully removing protestors from the square.
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But the investigation released by Interior Department Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt, says U.S. Park Police and the U.S. Secret Service concluded it was necessary to remove protestors from the park on June 1 in order to install anti-scale fencing.
The decision was reached after at least 49 U.S. Park Police (USPP) were injured while policing the protests that took place from May 30 – 31.
Federal police officials did not learn of the president’s “potential” plan to walk through the park until hours after the operational strategy to erect the fence had been laid out.
“The evidence we obtained did not support a finding that the USPP cleared the park to allow the president to survey the damage and walk to St. John’s Church,” the report said.
The report further revealed that the unnamed Park Police operations commander on the scene was unaware of the president’s planned visit until Barr turned up at the park shortly after 6:00 pm.
“Protesters in the crowd recognized the Attorney General and began shouting at him,” the investigation reported. “The USPP operations commander heard the change in the crowd, saw the Attorney General, and walked over to him.”
Barr reportedly asked the operations commander, “Are these people still going to be here when POTUS comes out?’”
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The Park Police official said he hadn’t known until then that Trump would be entering the park that evening.
The report said, “He replied to the Attorney General, ‘Are you freaking kidding me?’ and then hung his head and walked away.”
The operations commander denied that Barr told him to clear the park or change the operation’s plans in any capacity.
Law enforcement cleared the park by 6:50 p.m. and at 7:01 p.m. Trump walked from the White House through Lafayette Park to St. John’s Church.
The contractors began erecting the anti-scale fence by 7:30 and completed the project just after midnight.
Trump released a statement reflecting his vindication Wednesday.
“Thank you to the Department of the Interior Inspector General for completely and totally exonerating me in the clearing of Lafayette Park,” Trump said.
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The report found that inadequate communication between federal officials “may have contributed to confusion during the operation and the use of tactics that appeared inconsistent” with initial plans.
The inspector general additionally laid out recommendations should similar situations arise in the future.