WASHINGTON—Attorney General William Barr says law enforcement officers were already moving to push back protesters from a park in front of the White House when he arrived there Monday evening, and he says he did not give a command to disperse the crowd, though he supported the decision.
Barr said in an interview with The Associated Press that both he and U.S. Park Police were in agreement on the need to push back the security perimeter.
He said he attended a meeting around 2 p.m. on Monday, June 1 with several other law enforcement officials, including Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham, where they looked at a map and decided on a dividing line. Under the plan, the protesters would be moved away from Lafayette Park and federal law enforcement officials and members of the National Guard would maintain the perimeter line, Barr said.
Barr said the plan was supposed to be put into action soon after the meeting, but additional officers and National Guard troops had to be called in because of a high number of officers who had been injured throughout the weekend. It had not yet been implemented when he arrived at the park later in the evening and the crowd had grown much larger than it was in the afternoon, Barr said.
He said he did not give the officers the orders to proceed—they were already in the process of doing so when he showed up.
“They told me they were about to make the announcement and I think they stretched the announcements over 20 minutes. During the time I was there, I would periodically hear announcements,” Barr said. “They had the Park Police mounted unit ready, so it was just a matter of execution. So, I didn’t just say to them, ‘Go.'”
Barr said it was a Park Police tactical commander—an official he never spoke to—who gave the order for the law enforcement agencies to move in and clear the protesters.
“I’m not involved in giving tactical commands like that,” he said. “I was frustrated and I was also worried that as the crowd grew, it was going to be harder and harder to do. So my attitude was get it done, but I didn’t say, ‘Go do it.’”
Barr’s comments on Friday were his most detailed explanation yet of what unfolded outside the White House earlier this week.
The U.S. Park Police said in a statement on June 2 that officers had used smoke canisters and pepper balls to clear the area around 6:30 p.m., after protesters “became more combative,” “attempted to grab officers’ weapons,” and “continued to throw projectiles” that included “bricks, frozen water bottles, and caustic liquids.”
Several different groups, including the Secret Service and Park Police, were involved in evacuating the protesters. Members of the National Guard were present but didn’t engage with the protesters, Barr said.
Shortly after officers pushed back demonstrators, of whom none were arrested, a temporary fence was installed in the area. Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser had imposed a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for the day.
Barr said that there was no connection between evacuating the protesters and Trump’s walk soon after to St. John’s Church. He said he had learned in the afternoon that Trump wanted to go outside, and said that when he went to the White House in the evening, he learned of the president’s intended destination.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway had told reporters on June 2 that, “There was a plan to expand the perimeter from H Street to I Street based on the events as they had unfolded the night before.”
Around 7:00 p.m., President Donald Trump—accompanied by Barr, Pentagon leaders and other top advisers—walked through Lafayette Park and and held up a bible at a St. John’s Church, which had been damaged during the protests.
“We have the greatest country in the world,” Trump said at the church, where many past presidents have attended services. “We’re going to keep it safe.”
The short trip to the church and back to the White House came after Trump announced at a news conference that he was deploying military personnel and other federal assets to quell violent activities in Washington.
George Floyd, a black man, died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest on May 25. Floyd’s death and the events leading to it sparked nationwide protests expressing grief over police brutality. But in many instances, acts of violence, arson, and looting have marred the initially peaceful demonstrations.
Amid violent activities across the nation, the National Guard has been deployed in 29 U.S. states at the request of governors, and the Pentagon has moved about 1,600 troops into the Washington area as of June 3.
Trump indicated on Wednesday afternoon that he would prefer not to deploy the military and would personally rather deploy the National Guard to respond to the violence.
Epoch Times staff contributed to this report.