Attorney General William Barr said that members of the Trump administration agreed that active-duty military personnel should only be deployed as a “last resort” response to rioting.
Barr made the comments on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on June 7, when asked to address reports by the network that President Donald Trump had demanded last week that the military deploy 10,000 active-duty troops on U.S. streets.
The attorney general called the report “completely false,” saying that following a night of violent rioting in Washington, which saw the destruction of federal property as well as arson damage to the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church, Trump administration officials made the decision to “have at the ready and on hand in the vicinity some regular troops.”
“But everyone agreed that the use of regular troops was a last resort, and that as long as matters can be controlled with other resources, they should be,” Barr said, adding that officials felt they had adequate resources.
Barr said that he, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley concurred that military personnel would only be deployed as a last resort, and that they “didn’t think we would need them.”
“I think everyone was on the same page,” Barr said.
Similarly, a White House official on June 7 also denied reports that active-duty troops were deployed to respond to the violent rioting.
“This is FALSE. I was in the mtg. @realDonaldTrump very clearly directed DOD [Department of Defense] to surge the National Guard—not active duty—after nights of vandalism & arson in DC. It worked, & we’ve seen powerful, peaceful demonstrations since,” Alyssa Farah, the White House director of strategic communications, said in a statement on Twitter.
Tens of thousands of people flooded streets across the nation over the past week to call for change after the death of Floyd, a black man who died while former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an arrest. While many protests were peaceful, cities saw incidents of looting, violent rioting, and arson, leading to significant property damage and more than a dozen deaths.
Barr has blamed the violence on extremists agitators who have “hijacked” the protests to pursue their own agendas. On June 4, he said that 51 arrests had been made so far for federal crimes over the rioting and that resources have been deployed to quell outbreaks of violence in several places.
The number of protesters reached record levels on June 6 as people flooded the streets of cities including San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York City, Washington, and Chicago, in which many of them appeared peaceful. Trump announced on June 7 that he had ordered the National Guard to begin withdrawing from Washington.
“I have just given an order for our National Guard to start the process of withdrawing from Washington, D.C., now that everything is under perfect control. They will be going home, but can quickly return, if needed. Far fewer protesters showed up last night than anticipated!” the president wrote on Twitter.
During the interview, Barr also addressed criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of protesters in Washington. He disputed claims that protesters at the White House were forcefully cleared from the area using tear gas and other means last week in order to make way for Trump’s visit to the nearby St. John’s Church.
Trump and several of his aides, including Barr, walked across Lafayette Square to the church and posed for photos, which sparked broad criticism. Barr said that the decision to clear the park was made before he knew that Trump was going to speak there, and that it was “not an operation to respond to that particular crowd.”
“It was an operation to move the perimeter one block,” the attorney general said.
Barr said the decision was made in response to violent riots in Lafayette Square over the previous few days.
“On Sunday [May 31], things reached a crescendo. The officers were pummeled with bricks. Crowbars were used to pry up the pavers at the park and they were hurled at police. There were fires set in not only St. John’s Church, but a historic building at Lafayette was burned down,” he said.
He said these incidents prompted the Park Police on May 31 to prepare a plan “to clear H Street and put … a larger perimeter around the White House so they could build a more permanent fence on Lafayette.” He added that he gave the green light to the plan at 2 p.m. the next day.
“Police have to move protesters, sometimes peaceful demonstrators, for a short distance in order to accomplish public safety. And that’s what was done here,” Barr said.