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Trump's push to 'dominate' protesters moves Barr to forefront

Chris Strohm, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- As President Donald Trump weighs whether to deploy active-duty military troops to confront protesters across the U.S., he's getting advice from someone who's been there before: Attorney General William Barr.

Barr was attorney general in 1992 when the Insurrection Act authorizing such an extraordinary deployment was last invoked by President George H.W. Bush to quell riots in Los Angeles over the police arrest and beating of a black man, Rodney King.

Now, Barr is playing a central and visible role in orchestrating Trump's hard-line federal response to the demonstrations that have sometimes spiraled into violence and looting after the death of another African American, George Floyd, at the hands of police in Minneapolis last month.

"We will activate Bill Barr and activate him strongly," Trump told governors in a contentious conference call Monday.

Barr has emerged as one of Trump's fiercest defenders, enlisting the Justice Department's firepower to probe the president's politicized charges that he's been under siege by a cadre of "deep state" opponents, overruling prosecutors in order to drop charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn and saying the Russia probe undertaken by special counsel Robert Mueller never should have started.

But his role in Monday's events was among his most dramatic by far. In an unusual public appearance, Barr stood in a park across from the White House on Monday as police prepared to rush a group of peaceful protesters and push them back. The move followed a decision earlier in the day to extend the protective perimeter around the White House -- a decision one senior Justice Department official said Barr was heavily involved in making in order to avoid the mayhem of previous nights in the nation's capital.


After the plaza cleared, Trump walked across the park to stand outside a damaged church while holding up a Bible for photographers.

Later, Barr split his time between walking the streets of the nation's capital and working from a command center he established at the FBI's Washington field office. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Barr there to lead and observe federal response efforts, a senior defense official told reporters.

In a statement Tuesday, Barr praised the response in Washington on Monday and vowed "there will be even greater law enforcement resources and support in the region tonight." He said "the most basic function of government is to provide security for people to live their lives and exercise their rights."

With Washington's mayor invoking another curfew for Tuesday, the attorney general was spending much of his time meeting with officials from other federal agencies and coordinating response operations from the command center, a Justice Department official said.


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