Police violently cleared a park in front of the White House so a contractor could install fencing, not so that Donald Trump could walk with officials from his administration for a widely criticised photo op in front of a church across the street, according to a government report.
A report published on Wednesday by an inspector general for the US Department of Interior did find that former US Attorney General William Barr urged officials to speed up the clearing out of protesters in Lafayette Park in June 2020 ahead of the former president’s walk through the area.
But it did not find evidence that connected the violent police response – which saw officers firing pepper balls, tear gas, rubber bullets and flash grenades and wielding riot shields and batons – to orders from the administration as the then president prepared to visit a church for a photo op widely condemned as political theatre during a summer of racial justice protests.
US Park Police “had begun implementing the operational plan several hours before they knew of a potential presidential visit to the park, which occurred later that day,” according to Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt.
“As such, we determined that the evidence did not support a finding that the USPP cleared the park … so that then President Trump could enter the park,” he said.
USPP “did not know about the president’s potential movement until mid- to late afternoon on June 1 – hours after it had begun developing its operational plan and the fencing contractor had arrived in the park,” according to the report.
The report does not include specific use-of-force allegations, which are the subject of several lawsuits.
The report did find that the use of pepper balls by Bureau of Prisons agenda was “inconsistent with the guidance” from the incident commander, nor could investigators determine why those officers were there.
Tear gas fired by Washington DC police officers also was not approved, the report found.
According to the report, the USPP operations commander told investigators that Mr Barr said he thought a crowd assembled on H Street by the park would have been dispersed that evening. Footage of the event has shown Mr Barr and White House officials in the park after 6pm.
“Are these people still going to be here when POTUS comes out?” Mr Barr reportedly said.
The commander reportedly replied: “Are you freaking kidding me?”
Police began clearing the area at 6.23pm and finished by 6:50pm, according to the report. The city had imposed a 7pm curfew.
“Shortly thereafter, at 7:01pm, President Trump walked from the White House through Lafayette Park to St John’s Church,” the report said.
During the protest, Mr Trump delivered remarks from the Rose Garden condemning widespread uprisings against police violence and racial injustice as “acts of domestic terror” and pledge to mobilise “all available federal resources civilian and military to stop the rioting and looting to end the destruction and arson and to protect the rights of law abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights.”
At the end of his speech, he said he was going “to pay my respects to a very, very special place.”
Joined by White House officials, including Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Hope Hicks, Mark Meadows and Kayleigh McEnany, the group walked to the church, where Mr Tump held up a Bible and posed for photographs.
“Is that your Bible?” one reported asked.
“It is a Bible,” he replied.
In a statement following the release of the report, Mr Trump thanked the inspector general for “totally exonerating me.”
He then raged at Black Lives Matter protesters, “antifa rioters” and “other violent demonstrators who are causing chaos and death to our cities.”