Barr denies clearing path for Trump's church stroll as White House aide says protesters might 'finish the job'

No. 2 Trump spox: "It's almost as though sometimes the media is telling us, 'Shame on you, Donald Trump, shame on you, the administration, for not allowing protesters rioters and looters to come back and finish the job they started.'"

John T. Bennett
Washington Bureau Chief
Thursday 04 June 2020 20:24
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Attorney General Barr denies using force for Donald Trump's church stroll

Attorney General William Barr denied ordering federal law enforcement officers to use force against peaceful protesters as a White House aide expressed weariness that those objecting to George Floyd's death might return to the area outside the executive compound and "finish the job."

The Trump administration struck a noticeably more defensive tone on Thursday with those officials' comments and by erecting more tall black fencing around most of the 18 acres of the White House grounds. That came after a night of peaceful protests during which Washington, DC, government and police officials said they arrested none of the 5,000 or so people who packed the District's streets to object to the killing of Mr Floyd, a black man, under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis last week.

As Mr Floyd's family was preparing to lay him to rest later Thursday, the attorney general was asked about his decisions on Monday to order officers and National Guard troops from three agencies that do not fall under his purview to use force to move protesters back one block further away from the White House.

"My interest was to carry out the law enforcement functions of the federal government and to protect federal facilities and federal personnel," he told reporters. "And also to address the rioting that was interfering with the government's function."

That marked the first time any Trump administration official has contended that the protests are making it difficult to run the government.

"That is what we were doing. I think the president is the head of the executive branch ... and should be able to walk ... across the street," Mr Barr said.

Democratic lawmakers and the party's presumptive presidential nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, have said Mr Trump's walk to St John's Episcopal Church where he held up a Bible but said little, was a political photo-op.

Like other White House and administration officials, Mr Barr disputed those notions.

"I don't necessarily view that as a political act," he said, adding a notable qualifier.

He added the senior-most voice yet to the administration's denials the chaotic scene on H Street NW was related to the walk Mr Trump took less than an hour later.

"There was no correlation between our tactical plan of moving the perimeter out by one block and the president's going over to the church," he said. "The president asked members of his Cabinet to go over with him. ... I think it was appropriate for us to go over."

That comment puts the attorney general at odds with Defence Secretary Mark Esper, who claims he was unaware Mr Trump's stroll would exclusive feature the Bible-waving church visit.

Mr Barr and Mr Esper were the lone two Cabinet members other than White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows who accompanied the president outside the White House gate.

That came after Hogan Gidley, principal deputy White House press secretary, insisted Mr Esper is not in hot water with the president over two moves he made on Wednesday.

The first came when he broke with Mr Trump by saying he opposes any enactment of a federal law allowing a chief executive to deploy active-duty military forces in some times of unrest. The second was preparing to send home around 1,600 Army forces that Mr Trump had ordered moved outside of Washington, DC, and placed on standby following violent demonstrations here over the weekend.

"We've had this conversation with you all many times. And I know there was a lot of back-and-forth on these issues. But the President and the secretary of defense met yesterday," he said. "And as you know, when the president loses confidence, if he loses confidence, you'll know that."

But Mr Gidley also suggested the new tall fencing is being constructed around the White House because of fears the protesters might overrun armed officers and soldiers from at least eight federal law enforcement and military agencies, as well as officers from the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, Capitol Police and others.

"Let's not lose sight of what happened here," he said. "It's almost as though sometimes the media is telling us, 'Shame on you, Donald Trump, shame on you, the administration, for not allowing protesters rioters and looters to come back and finish the job they started."

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