x

Politics

Federal Probe: Protest Not Broken Up Due to Trump Photo Op

WASHINGTON — An internal government investigation has determined that the decision to forcibly clear racial justice protesters from an area in front of the White House last summer was not influenced by then-President Donald Trump's plan to stage a Bible-toting photo opportunity at that spot. 

The report released Wednesday by the Interior Department's inspector general concludes that the protesters were cleared by U.S. Park Police last June 1 so that a contractor could get started installing new fencing. 

The demonstrators were protesting the death of George Floyd, who died after a then-Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck and pinned him to the ground for about 9 1/2 minutes. A half-hour after the Washington protesters were forced from the area with pepper pellets and flash-bangs, Trump walked across Lafayette Park amid the lingering scent of pepper spray and delivered a short speech while holding a Bible in front of St. John's Church. 

Park Police officials had already planned to clear the area and "had begun implementing the operational plan several hours before they knew of a potential Presidential visit to the park," Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt said in a statement accompanying the report. 

The report documents Trump's attorney general, William Barr, encouraging commanders shortly before the push to clear the protesters because of Trump, but being dismissed. 

In a remarkable exchange, the report recounts the testimony of an unnamed Park Police operations commander: "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. The Attorney General then left Lafayette Park."

The report determined that the decision to clear the protesters was justified, but that law enforcement agencies on the scene failed to effectively communicate with each other and failed to communicate warnings to the protesters about the impending crackdown. Several different law enforcement agencies moved ahead of schedule and started engaging with protesters before the protesters had been sufficiently warned. 

The confrontation and church photo-op capped several days of escalating tension and scattered violence. Nights of protests over Floyd's death had resulted in scattered vandalism through the downtown area. Trump declared that Washington's mayor, Muriel Bowser, was incapable of maintaining the peace and he called in his own security response. 

The report details how on June 1, a contingent from the Bureau of Prisons arrived to the scene late, didn't receive a full briefing and used pepper pellets on protesters "contrary to the USPP incident commander's instructions."

The conclusions, which deny any political influence on decisions and cite fog-of-war confusion for any missteps, are likely to be dismissed as insufficient by critics of last summer's crackdown. 

Lafayette Park, the Washington nexus of the last summer's national wave of racial justice protests, is under Park Police jurisdiction; that agency falls under the Interior Department. 

The new report focuses on the Park Police decision-making and its complicated interactions with various law enforcement entities, including the Secret Service and the Metropolitan Police Department. 

It points out that "the USPP and the Secret Service did not use a shared radio channel to communicate" and determines that "weaknesses in communication and coordination may have contributed to confusion during the operation." 

The report tries to explain one of the main points of lingering contention: who used tear gas and when? It concludes that members of the city's police department, who were stationed down the block, used CS gas near the corner of 17th and H Street.

In the aftermath of that day, the Park Police repeatedly insisted that its officers never used tear gas, while the the police insisted that its officers were not involved in clearing protesters away from the church. Just last month, lawyers for the police department stated in federal court that its officers had used CS gas and other chemical irritants, claiming protesters had become violent and that one officer had his arm burned by a firework.

Much of the criticism of the clearing, and the accusations of political influence, stem from the decision to move in before the 7 p.m. curfew that Bowser had set. The push surprised protesters and was criticized as unnecessarily confrontational after two nights of clashes and property damage. 

The report concludes that Park Police commanders viewed the curfew as irrelevant. It cites an incident commander as saying, "We were not enforcing the Mayor's curfew. We're a Federal entity. We don't work directly for the Mayor."

It continues that commanders on the scene "did not believe protesters would comply with the Mayor's June 1 curfew order or that waiting would necessarily reduce unrest."

RELATED

PHOENIX — US Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is growing increasingly isolated from some of her party's most influential officials and donors after playing a key role in scuttling voting rights legislation that many consider essential to preserving democracy.

Top Stories

Church

BOSTON – The Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Alexandria in its recent meeting dealt with the ecclesiastical coup perpetrated by the Patriarchate of Moscow in its canonical jurisdiction, calling it an “immoral invasion and intrusion.

Church

NEW YORK - Some 21 years after it was destroyed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States that brought down the Twin Towers in New York City, the new St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church rising in its place is among the most eagerly awaited architectural openings of 2022.

Events

STATEN ISLAND, NY – For yet another year, the community of Holy Trinity-St Nicholas in Staten Island honored couples celebrating 50+ years of marriage with a modest ceremony held at the church immediately following the Divine Liturgy on January 16.

Video

Greece: Heavy Snowfall is Expected on Monday, Schools to Remain Closed in Attica (Vid)

ATHENS - Schools of all levels of education will remain closed throughout Attica on Monday and Tuesday, January 24-25, due to extreme weather conditions.

Enter your email address to subscribe

Provide your email address to subscribe. For e.g. abc@xyz.com

You may unsubscribe at any time using the link in our newsletter.