How the Trump administration has tried to explain clearing protesters from Lafayette Square
Below are the various explanations, examples of which you can watch in the video above.
Why Lafayette Square was cleared
Initially, White House spokesman Judd Deere said protesters were cleared to “help enforce the [city’s] 7 p.m. curfew.”
In a June 2 statement describing police actions in Lafayette Square, U.S. Park Police pointed to protesters throwing projectiles to explain why the square was cleared.
Attorney General William P. Barr undercut both of those explanations during a Fox News interview on June 8. Barr said he “agreed” with an order to clear protesters to expand the police perimeter that was based on a recommendation “initially made Sunday night [May 31] by the Park Police in the early morning hours.”
Instructions given over local police radios did not reference the projectiles that Park Police cited to explain why the square was cleared, and the Park Police made no reference in its June 2 statement to the preplanned decision that Barr said the agency had made late on May 31. On Tuesday, the Park Police said their radio transmissions during the June 1 square clearing were not recorded because the “radio recorder was not working.”
Hours after the initial Park Police statement on June 2, The Washington Post reported that “Attorney General William P. Barr personally ordered law enforcement officials to clear the streets around Lafayette Square just before President Trump spoke Monday, a Justice Department official said.”
But on June 5, Barr told the Associated Press that he did not give the tactical order to clear protesters and that the order was given by a Park Police tactical commander whom Barr did not speak with.
D.C. police and the National Guard Bureau have also undercut Barr’s claim that a decision to expand the perimeter and clear protesters was made hours before Trump’s church visit and was “communicated to all the police agencies, including the Metropolitan Police at 2 p.m. that day [June 1].”
D.C. police and the National Guard Bureau were at the 2 p.m. June 1 meeting with top law enforcement and military officials to plan for protests that night. D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham told The Post that there was no confirmed time to extend the perimeter and that he learned shortly before Trump’s visit that protesters would be forcefully cleared. National Guard Bureau Chief Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel told The Post that he was not informed of any plan to clear protesters from Lafayette Square.
Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz told The Post that at a separate meeting on June 1, two Park Police captains told Arlington County police officers to prepare to move the perimeter “at some point” in the evening.
On July 9, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee that they did not know who gave the order to clear protesters from Lafayette Square.
How law enforcement cleared protesters
In the same June 2 statement, Park Police said officers used “smoke canisters and pepper balls” to clear protesters but “did not use tear gas or OC Skat Shells.” The next day, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said “no one was tear-gassed.”
On June 5, the U.S. Secret Service said “no agency personnel used tear gas or capsicum spray” to clear the square. And on June 7, Barr told CBS News that the pepper balls used on protesters “were not chemical irritants.”
Who knew about Trump’s church visit
Barr has said he did not know that Trump would visit the church.
“No, he didn’t tell me,” Barr said June 8. “I found out later that afternoon [on June 1] that he might go outside the White House.”
After initially saying he did not know about the planned church visit, Esper on June 3 said he did know about it but did not know about plans to clear protesters.
In a letter sent to Congress on June 10, Esper and Milley said they did not know about Trump’s planned church photo.
“We participated in the walk with the aim of observing damage in Lafayette Square and at St. Johns Church, and meeting with and thanking the National Guard members who were on duty,” they said.
Vice President Pence told CBS News Radio on June 12 that he was “encouraged to stay at the White House [rather than visit the church] out of an abundance of caution.”
Trump has said he did not know protesters were outside when he decided to visit the church.
“Now when I said, go to the church, I didn’t know, protesters or not. Nobody tells me that,” Trump said June 3. “They say: ‘Yes, sir. We’ll go to the church.’ So we walked over to the church.”