Trump claims exoneration in Lafayette Square clearing out
Former President Trump claimed exoneration after a watchdog report on Wednesday determined that his plans to walk through Lafayette Square did not influence officers’ decisions to clear protesters out of the park last year.
“Thank you to the Department of the Interior Inspector General for Completely and Totally exonerating me in the clearing of Lafayette Park!” Trump said in a statement.
“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,” the former president added.
The report from the Department of the Interior’s Office of the Inspector General is the first to evaluate the June 1 clearing of protesters shortly before Trump crossed Lafayette Square for a photo-op at a nearby church with a Bible in hand.
The report ultimately determined that Trump’s plans to visit the park did not influence the officers’ decision to clear it. It was the first to come from several ongoing investigations surrounding the event,
The agency found that while law enforcement learned on the day of the incident that Trump might visit, U.S. Park Police, the lead agency overseeing Lafayette Square, had already planned to clear the park in order to install additional fencing around the White House.
The report determined that the Park Police became aware of Trump’s potential visit to Lafayette Park hours before the dispersal transpired, but it did not say they altered their plans in order to accommodate his visit.
It said that officers had already planned to put up a fence and began developing plans to clear protesters, who were demonstrating following the police killing of George Floyd, before 10 a.m. on the day of the incident.
The Park Police’s acting chief of police told investigators that an incident commander told him about Trump’s potential visit to assess damage to the park at some point between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. that day, while the protesters were cleared after 6 p.m.
The Park Police operations commander said that when he told former Attorney General William Barr that the authorities were getting ready to move the crowd, Barr asked him, “Are these people still going to be here when POTUS [President of the United States] comes out?”
Per the report, the commander did not appear to previously know that Trump would enter the park and reportedly responded, “Are you freaking kidding me?” then hung his head and walked away.
The report did identify several issues with the incident, including a determination that protesters were not adequately warned and that a lack of communication led to some law enforcement officials using chemical irritants that had not been authorized.
The investigators did not seek to interview Barr for the report or other White House officials, noting other investigations by watchdogs at the Department of Justice and the Government Accountability Office.