Former President Donald Trump has declared himself exonerated of charges that he cleared protesters out of Lafayette Square in front of the White House last summer for a photo op.
Activists had gathered in Lafayette Park in protest against alleged police brutality in the weeks after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. After the demonstrators were ousted, the media was quick to blame the then-president, who was photographed in the wake of the chaos in front of St. John’s Church in the park holding a Bible.
“The big finding”
In an article published last week, Washington Examiner correspondent Barnini Chakraborty cited a report from the Interior Department’s inspector general that concluded the decision to remove demonstrators on June 1, 2020, was made independently and was not, in fact, ordered by the Trump White House.
“The evidence we obtained did not support a finding that the USPP [United States Park Police] cleared the park to allow the president to survey the damage and walk to St. John’s Church,” the report said, according to the Examiner.
Instead, Park Police were reportedly told to secure the area in order to allow contractors to erect security fencing, and only learned of Trump’s plan to visit St. John’s Church after their operation had already begun.
Inspector General Mark Greenblatt told ABC News that his team at the Interior Department “did not find evidence that a potential presidential visit to the park or the St John’s Church influenced the park police’s decision making, or their deployment, you know, in their operation to clear out the park.”
The Trump appointee went on: “So that’s the big, the big finding of our report is, is the is the clear evidence of why they decided to do so and when they made the decision, and on the flip side, the lack of evidence related to the President’s potential visit influencing that decision.”
The former president, for his part, reacted positively to the report’s findings. “Thank you to the Department of the Interior Inspector General for Completely and Totally exonerating me in the clearing of Lafayette Park!” he declared in a statement, according to The Hill.
“As we have said all along, and it was backed up in today’s highly detailed and professionally written report, our fine Park Police made the decision to clear the park to allow a contractor to safely install antiscale fencing to protect from Antifa rioters, radical BLM [Black Lives Matter] protestors, and other violent demonstrators,” Trump added.
Although the park demonstrators were frequently characterized as being “peaceful,” reports indicated some had set fire to St. John’s Church earlier in the day, while others were seen throwing projectiles at police.
“At approximately 6:33 p.m., violent protestors on H Street NW began throwing projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles, and caustic liquids,” the Park Police said in a statement on June 2 of last year, according to Fox News. “The protestors also climbed onto a historic building at the north end of Lafayette Park that was destroyed by arson days prior,” the statement added.
The USPP said officers “employed the use of smoke canisters and pepper balls” as demonstrators “became more combative, continued to throw projectiles, and attempted to grab officers’ weapons.”