Protesters were not forcibly cleared from an area in front of the White House because of former President Donald Trump’s photo opportunity, an internal investigation has found.
Demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd were forcibly removed with flash-bangs and other non-lethal crowd control munitions from the plaza between St. John’s Church and Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C. on June 1. The incident was widely denounced and quickly blamed on Trump, who walked across the park shortly afterwards to give a speech in front of St. John’s Church.
A report released Wednesday by Mark Greenblatt, the Interior Department inspector general, determined that Park Police were given permission to and carried out clearing the park long before anyone knew the former president had plans to walk over.
“The evidence we reviewed showed that the (Park Police) cleared the park to allow a contractor to safely install anti-scale fencing in response to destruction of Federal property and injury to officers that occurred on May 30 and May 31,” Greenblatt noted.
“Moreover, the evidence established that relevant (Park Police) officials had made those decisions and had begun implementing the operational plan several hours before they knew of a potential presidential visit to the park, which occurred later that day,” the letter continued. “As such, we determined that the evidence did not support a finding that the (Park Police) cleared the park on June 1, 2020, so that then President Trump could enter the park.”
While the report found clearing the protesters was justified, it described a lack of communication between various law enforcement agencies on the ground at the time. This miscommunication led to a failure in letting protesters know that the park was to be cleared, according to the report. (RELATED: Protesters And Black Lives Matter Suing Trump Over Eviction From Lafayette Park)
“Weaknesses in communication and coordination may have contributed to confusion during the operation,” the report noted in part according to The Associated Press.
The report detailed more confusion and miscommunication, noting that former Attorney General William Barr pushed for the process to be sped up upon learning about Trump’s plans.
“Are these people still going to be here when POTUS [President of the United States] comes out?” Barr said according to the IG report.
“Are you freaking kidding me?” the Park Police operations commander responded, apparently unaware of the former president’s plans.
The report also found that Bureau of Prisons officers fired pepper balls, which was “inconsistent with the guidance.” It is not known why Bureau of Prisons officers were on the scene that day, according to NBC News.
These officers did not attend the operational briefing as they arrived late, according to the report. Tear gas was also used that day by Washington, D.C., police, which surprised Park Police, NBC News reported.
President Joe Biden was among those to blame Trump for the incident, decrying the use of force “for a photo” shortly afterwards.
“He’s using the American military against the American people,” Biden declared on Twitter at the time. “He tear-gassed peaceful protesters and fired rubber bullets. For a photo. For our children, for the very soul of our country, we must defeat him. But I mean it when I say this: we can only do it together.”
He’s using the American military against the American people.
He tear-gassed peaceful protesters and fired rubber bullets.
For a photo.
For our children, for the very soul of our country, we must defeat him. But I mean it when I say this: we can only do it together. https://t.co/G1yE67q9Nz
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) June 2, 2020
Trump thanked the inspector general for the report in a statement Wednesday, saying he has been “Completely and Totally” exonerated.
“Thank you to the Department of the Interior Inspector General for Completely and Totally exonerating me in the clearing of Lafayette Park!” the former president wrote. “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 who are causing chaos and death to our cities.”
“In this instance, they tried burning down the church the day before the clearing. Fortunately, we were there to stop the fire from spreading beyond the basement—and it was our great honor and privilege to do so. Again, thank you to the Inspector General!” the statement concluded.