Attorney General William Barr personally ordered police to clear peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square outside the White House so Donald Trump could have himself photographed at a nearby church, a new report claims.
Trump has been under fire for holding a photo op holding a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House, which was preceded by police forcefully pushing out peaceful protesters who had gathered to demand justice for George Floyd. As the Washington Post reported, the order to clear away the demonstrators came from Barr himself. The attorney general was seen walking with Trump from the grounds of the White House and the short distance to the church — one of the oldest in the nation’s capital and the former place of worship for a number of presidents.
Until Tuesday’s report, it had not been exactly clear who made the decision regarding the protesters at that time, despite being before the citywide curfew took effect. As The Daily Beast added, it was an order not normally made by the nation’s top law enforcement official.
“The move was an unusual one for the nation’s highest-ranking legal official to make personally, speaking to the close relationship between the head of the Department of Justice and Trump,” the report noted.
Barr has been criticized for taking actions that critics believe improperly protect Trump, and for failing to speak out against far-right groups identified as playing a role in national unrest this week.
Trump has faced widespread criticism for the photo op and the actions by police to forcefully push out protesters who had reportedly been civil. Video showed police firing tear gas and striking people, including one Australian news crew who were attacked during a live broadcast. Though the White House said the protesters had been warned to move, many on the scene — including members of news organizations — disputed this claim and said that the advance from police and shots of tear gas came with no warning.
Many in the president’s own party took aim at him on Tuesday. That included Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, who said it was wrong for Trump to use the church for a photo op.
“I’m against clearing out a peaceful protest for a photo op that treats the Word of God as a political prop,” Sasse said in a statement, via USA Today.
Sasse condemned those protesters who had turned violent, but said that overall, the demonstrators had a “fundamental — a Constitutional — right to protest.”