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Watchdog: Trump Photo-Op Wasn't Why Park Was Cleared

Operation was planned hours before Trump decided to visit church, inspector general finds
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 9, 2021 2:41 PM CDT

(Newser) – At the time, commentators said it would be considered a defining moment of Donald Trump's presidency: Police forcibly removed racial justice protesters from the Lafayette Square area across from the White House before Trump and his entourage walked to a church for a controversial photo-op. But the church visit was not the reason why the square was cleared, according to a watchdog investigation. The report from the Interior Department's inspector general found that in an operation planned hours before Trump expressed interest in visiting the church, federal police cleared the area so contractors could install security fencing, the ABC reports. The evidence does not support a finding that federal police "cleared the park on June 1, 2020, so that then-President Trump could enter the park," said Inspector General Mark Greenblatt.

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The report did, however, find multiple problems with the operation, including "allegations of individual use-of-force incidents" that are the subject of separate inquiries. The incidents include the firing of pepper balls and tear gas by Bureau of Prisons officers and DC police officers assisting US Park Police with the operation, NBC reports. It also found that then-Attorney General William Barr urged authorities to speed up the clearance after Trump decided to visit the church. The report says that when Barr told the operations commander Trump would walk through the park, the commander said, "Are you freaking kidding me?" After the report's release, Trump issued a statement thanking Greenblatt for "Completely and Totally exonerating me in the clearing of Lafayette Park!" (Read more Donald Trump stories.)

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