Department of Homeland Security

Inspector general chose not to investigate Secret Service in clearing of Lafayette Square: report

The main federal watchdog for the Secret Service reportedly blocked proposed investigations into the clearing of Lafayette Square during George Floyd protests last year, in addition to a probe investigating the spread of COVID-19 in its ranks, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

The forceful clearing of peaceful protesters was heavily criticized after it was immediately followed by former President Trump's photo opportunity at the church across the street, which had earlier been vandalized during the demonstrations.

Joseph Cuffari, the inspector general at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), denied recommendations from his staff to investigate what role the Secret Service played in the emptying of the area, the Post reported, citing internal documents and two people familiar with his decision.

Around 6:45 p.m. on June 1, law enforcement dispatched canisters of tear gas and smoke bombs near the White House to clear protesters at least 15 minutes before a citywide curfew was scheduled to go into effect.

By 7 p.m., the area around the White House was cleared, allowing Trump to walk to St. John's Church across the street and pose for photos with a Bible.

Before authorities cleared the protesters and Trump marched to the church, the president said during a speech in the Rose Garden that "mayors and governors must establish an overwhelming law enforcement presence until the violence has been quelled."

"If a city or state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the U.S. military and quickly solve the problem for them," he continued.

The head of the Park Police, in a July testimony before Congress, denied that Trump's photo at St. John's Church was the reason why protesters were cleared from Lafayette Square.

Both Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley later expressed regret for their involvement in the incident, specifically citing the bad optics.

Cuffari also reportedly worked to limit an investigation that examined whether the Secret Service ignored federal coronavirus detection and mitigation protocols, amid the large number of COVID-19 cases within the ranks, according to the Post.

In November, the Post reported that more than 130 Secret Service officers were quarantined or isolated because of COVID-19 cases, as an outbreak spread in the White House and Trump continued on the campaign trail.

The investigation, however, was ultimately put aside by the office, the Post reported.

"Our office does not have the resources to approve every oversight proposal. We have less than 400 auditors and inspectors to cover the entire Department of Homeland Security, an agency with almost half a million employees and contractors," DHS Office of the Inspector General spokesperson Erica Paulson said in a statement to The Hill.

"Like all IGs, we have to make tough strategic decisions about how to best use our resources for greatest impact across the Department. In both of these cases, we determined that resources would have a higher impact elsewhere," Paulson continued.

"That a matter is politically sensitive is not a reason in itself to review the issue, nor is it a reason to decline to take it up," she added.

Paulson said the DHS Office of the Inspector General "closely coordinated" with Justice and Interior department inspectors general with respect to the Lafayette Square incident because they "were each planning reviews given the greater presence and participation of their agencies on that day."

She also commented on the report that Cuffari worked to limit an investigation into whether the Secret Service disregarded federal COVID-19 protocols, saying "COVID-19 was and is a significant risk for DHS and we have numerous investigations, inspections and audits that appropriately address those risks throughout DHS."

--Updated on April 21 at 12:12 a.m.