The US Park Police did not clear racial injustice protesters from Lafayette Park to allow for then-President Donald Trump’s march to St. John’s Church last June, but instead did so to allow a contractor to install a fence safely around the White House, according to a new inspector general report.
The Park Police had the authority to clear protesters during last summer’s clash outside the White House, according to the report released by the Interior Department’s inspector general on Wednesday.
Last summer, federal law enforcement agents, including Park Police, clashed with protesters near Lafayette Square, a park across the street from the White House traditionally used for peaceful protests and demonstrations.
The protesters were forcefully cleared just prior to Trump’s controversial photo at a nearby church, where he held up a Bible after he had declared himself the "law and order" President.
But, according to the watchdog’s report, "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 response from law enforcement during the 2020 Lafayette Square incident has been a major source of contention, as Democratic lawmakers have pushed for information about who gave the order to clear the park, which federal agencies were involved and what measures and authorizations were used.
This new report, although limited in scope, provides insight into the decision-making behind one of the federal law enforcement entities involved. Other government agencies have undertaken separate reviews of the law enforcement response to protests last summer, which could offer a fuller picture of what happened that day.
The inspector general’s report specifically reviewed actions taken by the Park Police, which falls under the Interior Department’s jurisdiction through the National Park Service. The inspector general’s investigation was conducted at the request of then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and lawmakers.
The narrow scope of this review meant that the investigators were mainly focused on Park Police operations, and they sought information from those outside of the Park Police only "when doing so would provide us with information about the USPP’s activities," the report said.
As part of the review into Park Police operations, the watchdog therefore "did not seek to interview Attorney General William Barr, White House personnel, Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officers, MPD personnel, or Secret Service personnel regarding their independent decisions that did not involve the USPP."
CNN previously reported that Barr had ordered authorities to clear the crowd of protesters, according to a Justice Department official, minutes ahead of a televised address by Trump from the Rose Garden. Barr later sought to distance himself, saying he had not given the final order to clear the demonstration even as the White House placed the decision on his shoulders amid the fallout.
Barr was not interviewed for the report, and the inspector general notes that they found the attorney general’s visit to Lafayette Park did not change the Park Police’s plans to clear the park.
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