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Watchdog Report Says Police Did Not Clear Protesters To Make Way For Trump Photo-Op

National Guard soldiers protect a park during protests near the White House on June 1, 2020.
National Guard soldiers protect a park during protests near the White House on June 1, 2020.

Updated June 9, 2021 at 4:22 PM ET

The U.S. Park Police did not clear protesters from a park outside the White House so then-President Donald Trump could take a photo-op at a nearby church, an Interior Department inspector general's report found.

"[T]he evidence established that relevant USPP 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," Interior Department Inspector General Mark Greenblatt wrote in a statement with the report's release Wednesday. "As such, we determined that the evidence did not support a finding that the USPP cleared the park on June 1, 2020, so that then President Trump could enter the park."

Trump walked to St. John's Church, which had been damaged the day before during protests over racial injustice. As he did, law enforcement violently cleared what had been mostly peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park.

As those scenes unfolded, Trump posed for photographs, holding up a Bible outside the church.

Then-President Donald Trump holds up a Bible in front of St. John's Church after walking across Lafayette Park from the White House on June 1, 2020.
Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images
Then-President Donald Trump holds up a Bible in front of St. John's Church after walking across Lafayette Park from the White House on June 1, 2020.

The report noted that the Park Police made the decision "to allow a contractor to safely install antiscale fencing in response to destruction of Federal property and injury to officers."

The report, however, "does not clear law enforcement on use of force and acknowledges problem with its response. ... This report does not address allegations of individual use-of-force incidents, as those are the subject of separate inquiries as well as ongoing lawsuits."

Two of the problems it pointed to included:

  • "the U.S. Secret Service's deployment before the USPP had begun its dispersal warnings, and
  • "the USPP's failure to provide dispersal warnings that were loud enough for everyone to hear and that told protesters where to exit before the clearing operation began."
  • Read the full report here.

    "Are you freaking kidding me?"

    Trump reacted triumphantly to the report, thanking the inspector general in a statement for "Completely and Totally exonerating me in the clearing of Lafayette Park!"

    Park Police officials said the plan to clear the area was in place before a 2 p.m. meeting that included then-Attorney General William Barr.

    The Park Police operations commander said "the Attorney General did not mention a potential presidential visit to the park," according to the report.

    According to the report:

    The Secret Service informed the commander by mid-to-late afternoon, sometime between 3 and 5 p.m. ET, of Trump's planned visit. It was to take place "after protesters had been removed from the area."

    The ops commander saw Barr coming out of the White House, according to the report. He went over to Barr and told him the area was unsafe. Barr responded by asking why people were still on H Street outside the White House and that he thought it would be cleared by now.

    "The USPP operations commander said the Attorney General asked him, 'Are these people still going to be here when POTUS [President of the United States] comes out?' The USPP operations commander told us he had not known until then that the President would be coming out of the White House and into Lafayette Park.

    "He said he replied to the Attorney General, 'Are you freaking kidding me?' and then hung his head and walked away."

    Trump stands outside St. John's Church on June 1, 2020, along with members of his administration, Attorney General William Barr (far left), White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien (second from left) and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
    Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images
    Trump stands outside St. John's Church on June 1, 2020, along with members of his administration, Attorney General William Barr (far left), White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien (second from left) and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

    The incident commander said the Park Police wanted to clear the area "to erect the fence and de-escalate the situation. He added that the Attorney General was 'not in his chain of command' and that clearing the park had 'nothing to do with [him] or the President wanting to come out.'

    "He stated, 'This plan doesn't get developed in 2 minutes. ... [The Attorney General] might be a very important guy in the Government, he's just not my boss.' "

    The inspector general noted in his report that he did not seek to interview Barr because his report focused on Park Police conduct.

    In June 2020, Barr said at a news conference that the decision to clear the park was made before he was aware of Trump's plans. He noted, however, that Trump had the right to go and denied it was a political move.

    A chaotic scene

    The timeline of events that day shows chaotic parallel tracks emerging — on one side, the Park Police's plan to clear protesters to build a fence and then on the other, Trump's desire to address what he described in a Rose Garden speech as violent protests and then walk to the church.

    "The Secret Service lieutenant later apologized for the early entry onto H Street during the operation but did not explain why it occurred," the report noted, adding, "Some speculated it occurred because of miscommunication between a Secret Service supervisor and his officers near the gate area. Others guessed it could have occurred because the USPP and the Secret Service did not have a shared radio channel and had no way of intercepting and resolving conflicting radio communications."

    Whatever the reason, the fencing company told the Secret Service at 6:30 p.m. ET it was concerned about the increasing crowd size. Trump then gave his Rose Garden speech 13 minutes later and then 18 minutes afterward, he departed the White House for the church.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.