Barr denies protesters were cleared to make way for Trump church visit

Attorney General William BarrBill BarrJustice Dept. considering replacing outgoing US attorney in Brooklyn with Barr deputy: report Ousted Manhattan US Attorney Berman to testify before House next week ACLU lawsuit calls on Barr to delay federal execution MORE on Thursday said there was "no correlation" between law enforcement aggressively dispersing protesters from Lafayette Square near the White House and President TrumpDonald John TrumpSecret Service members who helped organize Pence Arizona trip test positive for COVID-19: report Trump administration planning pandemic office at the State Department: report Iran releases photo of damaged nuclear fuel production site: report MORE's walk to nearby St. John's Church shortly thereafter, a visit he defended as "entirely appropriate."

Barr, who ordered law enforcement to expand their perimeter another block away from the White House on Monday evening, denied that the path was cleared of activists demonstrating against police brutality to make way for Trump's trip to the church for a photo-op with aides.

"I did not know that he was going to do that until later in the day after our plans were well underway to move the perimeter," Barr said at a press conference. "So there was no correlation between our tactical plan of moving the perimeter out by one block and the president’s going over to the church."

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Barr, who joined Trump at the church, defended both the president's visit to St. John's and his participation in the photo.

"I think the president is the head of the executive branch and the chief executive of the nation and should be able to walk outside the White House ... to the church of presidents," he said. "I don’t necessarily view that as a political act. I think it was entirely appropriate form to do."

"I think it was appropriate for us to go over with him," he added, referring to himself and Cabinet officials such as Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperDuckworth to block military confirmations until Esper proves Vindman will be promoted House panel votes to limit Trump's Germany withdrawal House panel votes to ban Confederate flag at Pentagon property MORE who joined for the visit.

The Trump administration has faced intense criticism for the president's visit to St. John's after military police used tear gas and other instruments to disperse the crowd that had peacefully gathered in Lafayette Square roughly 20 minutes before he made his way over on foot. 

The White House has argued that some protesters on the scene were throwing bottles and other items at law enforcement, though reporters there at the time have said they did not witness any escalation by protesters, who were moved before the city's 7 p.m. curfew had begun.

Washington, like most other major U.S., has seen days of protests following the police killing of George Floyd last week in Minneapolis.