WASHINGTON – Government report concludes federal police did not evict protesters from Lafayette Park near the White House last summer so then President Donald Trump could walk to a church neighbor for a photo op.
The report, released on Wednesday by Home Office Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt, said U.S. Parks Police and the U.S. Secret Service determined it was necessary to remove protesters from the area to l inside and around the park on June 1, so that contractors can install security fencing.
Federal police only learned of Trump’s intention to walk through the park and examine fire damage at St. John’s Episcopal Church until mid- to late-afternoon – hours after starting to plan the security fence and the contractor had arrived at the park, the report said.
“The evidence we obtained does not support a conclusion that the USPP cleared the park to allow the president to examine the damage and walk to St. John’s Church,” the report said.
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Federal and military police clashed with protesters and chased them from the park and surrounding streets on the evening of June 1, shortly before Trump walked through the park and stood in front of St. John’s to hold up a Bible.
Police used pepper spray and other chemical irritants to clean up the park and nearby streets of protesters, who had filled the area for days following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody.
Shortly after the report was released, Trump issued a statement thanking the Inspector General “for completely and totally exonerating me in the Lafayette Park glade!”
“As we said from the start, and this was supported in today’s very detailed and professionally written report, our fine park police made the decision to clean up the park to allow a contractor to safely install anti-scale fences to protect themselves from Antifa rioters, radical BLM protesters and other violent protesters who are causing chaos and death in our cities, ”he said.
According to the report, the Secret Service purchased anti-lime fences on the morning of June 1 to establish a more secure perimeter around Lafayette Park. The fence was to be delivered and installed the same day. Park police, in coordination with the Secret Service, decided that the park and surrounding area should be cleaned up to allow contractor’s employees to safely install the fence.
The report recounts an exchange in which Attorney General William Barr showed up at the park and asked an anonymous park police operations commander: “Will these people still be there when POTUS (President of the United States ) will come out?
The operations commander said he was unaware until then that Trump would exit the White House and enter the park. “He said he replied to the attorney general, ‘Are you kidding me? then lowered his head and walked away. The Attorney General then left Lafayette Park.
The operations commander later denied that Barr had ordered him to clean up the park, according to the report, and the inspector general’s investigation found no evidence that the attorney general’s visit caused the police to change his plans.
Six other law enforcement agencies assisted park police and Secret Service in cleaning up and securing the park and surrounding area. The operation started at 6:23 p.m. and ended at 6:50 p.m. Trump walked from the White House in Lafayette Park to St. John’s Church at 7:01 p.m.
At 7:30 p.m., the contractor began to assemble and install the new fence and completed the work around 12:30 a.m. the next day, according to the report.
Greenblatt concluded that the park police had the power and discretion to clean up Lafayette Park and the surrounding areas. But the report found that although park police used a long-range, sound-amplifying acoustic device to issue three scatter warnings to the crowd, not everyone could hear the warnings.
The report also concluded that “the USPP and the Secret Service did not use a shared radio channel to communicate” and that “weaknesses in communication and coordination may have contributed to the confusion during the operation.”
Further, the report notes that a contingent from the Bureau of Prisons may have fired pepperballs at the crowd contrary to the park commander’s instructions. The Prisons Office team arrived late at the scene and did not hear the commander’s briefing that the pepper tablets should only be used if the protesters walked through the fence, according to the report.
Michael Collins covers the White House. Follow him on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS.