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Barr says he didn't give 'tactical' command to clear Lafayette protesters

Attorney General William BarrBill BarrPolice accountability board concludes that Seattle police officers used excessive force during encounters with protesters Trump hasn't asked Barr to open investigation into Bidens, McEnany says Seattle, Portland, NYC sue Trump administration over threat to pull federal money MORE denied that he gave a “tactical” command to law enforcement officers to clear a crowd of largely peaceful protesters outside the White House on Monday as he faces criticism over the clash.

Barr said in an interview with The Associated Press that officers were already moving to clear the demonstrators in Lafayette Square when he arrived on the scene and that he did not direct anyone to disperse the crowd.

Barr told the AP that he and the U.S. Park Police agreed on the need to push back the security perimeter around the White House complex and that while he supported the efforts to give the order to enact the plan, he did not do it himself.

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"They told me they were about to make the announcement and I think they stretched the announcements over 20 minutes. During the time I was there, I would periodically hear announcements," Barr said. "They had the Park Police mounted unit ready, so it was just a matter of execution. So I didn’t just say to them, 'Go.'"

"I’m not involved in giving tactical commands like that," he added. "I was frustrated and I was also worried that as the crowd grew, it was going to be harder and harder to do. So my attitude was 'Get it done,' but I didn’t say, 'Go do it.'"

The Monday incident sparked nationwide controversy after President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump admin to announce coronavirus vaccine will be covered under Medicare, Medicaid: report Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report McConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote MORE and other administration officials, including Barr, walked from the White House to a nearby church that had been targeted by arsonists the night before, leading critics to rail against the officials for using law enforcement to set up a photo opportunity. 

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters this week that Barr was the one who told officers to disperse the crowd.

“He said that we needed to get going with moving that perimeter. He told the officers that out there,” McEnany said Wednesday.

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. 

Washington, like cities across the country, has seen a wave of protests over the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died during a Minneapolis police arrest.