U.S. Attorney General William Barr denies that he gave tactical orders to clear protestors from a park in front of the White House when he arrived there Monday evening.
Barr says law enforcement officials were already having the crowd disperse when he got to the scene, but adds that he supported the decision.
His comments to The Associated Press came after the White House and other sources said repeatedly that the attorney general had ordered officers to clear the park.
Just after officers had the demonstrators move, President Trump, along with Barr, Pentagon leaders and other top advisers, walked through Lafayette Park in order to pose for a photo at a nearby church that was damaged during the protests.
Last week, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that Barr made the decision to push back the security perimeter outside the White House on Monday morning.
She added that when Barr arrived at Lafayette Park later to survey the security situation, he was surprised to see that action had not yet been taken.
“So he said that we needed to get going with moving that perimeter. He told the officers that out there,” McEnany said Wednesday. A person familiar with the matter also said earlier this week that Barr told law enforcement to take action to move the perimeter when he arrived in the park.
On Friday, Barr told the AP that he and U.S. Park Police agreed on the need to push back the security perimeter.
President Trump just walked from the White House to St. John’s church.
This is a powerful photo! pic.twitter.com/psVIRFIB1S
— Ryan Fournier (@RyanAFournier) June 1, 2020
He explained that he attended a meeting around 2 p.m. Monday with several other law enforcement officials, including Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham, where they reviewed a map and decided on a dividing line.
Under that plan, he said the protesters would be moved away from Lafayette Park, and that federal law enforcement officials and members of the National Guard would maintain the perimeter line.
Barr went on to say that additional officers and National Guard troops had to be called in as a high number of officers had been injured throughout the weekend.
The plan not yet been implemented when he arrived at the park that evening, and the crowd had grown larger than it was in the afternoon.
He noticed that officers were already clearing the crowd when he arrived.
“They told me they were about to make the announcement and I think they stretched the announcements over 20 minutes. During the time I was there, I would periodically hear announcements,” Barr said.
“They had the Park Police mounted unit ready, so it was just a matter of execution. So, I didn’t just say to them, ‘Go,'” he continued.
A Park Police tactical commander, an official with whom the attorney general reportedly did not speak to, gave the order to clear the protesters.
“I’m not involved in giving tactical commands like that,” he said. “I was frustrated and I was also worried that as the crowd grew, it was going to be harder and harder to do. So my attitude was get it done, but I didn’t say, ‘Go do it.’”
Additionally, Barr insisted there was no connection between the situation with the protesters and Trump’s walk to St. John’s Church.
He says he had learned in the afternoon that Trump wanted to go outside, and learned of the destination that evening.