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IG: Park Police did not clear square for Trump photo op

Benjamin J. Hulac, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — The Interior Department’s internal watchdog found that the actions of the U.S. Park Police in clearing demonstrators from Lafayette Square in June 2020 were not orchestrated so that President Donald Trump could enter the park and pose before a nearby church.

On the night of May 29, 2020, in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minnesota, protesters of police violence gathered around the White House, including in adjacent Lafayette Square.

Three days later, on the afternoon of June 1, members of the U.S. Park Police, which is part of the Interior Department, led other police and law enforcement agencies in clearing the square of demonstrators with the use of tear gas, pepper ball projectiles, riot shields and horses. Moments later, Trump walked from the White House through the park and in front of St. John’s Church, where he held a Bible aloft and posed for news photographers.

In a 41-page report released Wednesday, the department’s inspector general said an investigation did not turn up evidence that the U.S. Park Police had cleared the square for Trump to enter.

The report focused on the actions of the USPP and made no determinations about whether other law enforcement agencies present that day might have coordinated with the White House.

The report found fault with USPP tactics, saying its officers had not made adequately loud warnings to the crowd of demonstrators to disperse.

 

A small and fairly obscure police department, with a presence in just three American cities, the USPP found itself thrust into the national spotlight in the past year, with official investigations from the inspector general and Congress, scrutiny from the public and harsh words from lawmakers.

Former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt requested the report, which covers events in and near the square from May 29 through June 3.

At a House hearing in July, then-acting Police Chief Gregory Monahan said the orders to clear the square did not come from the White House, Bernhardt or William Barr, the attorney general at the time.

“We did not clear the park for a photo op,” Monahan said. The report supports that statement.

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