Police Didn’t Clear Protestors for Trump Photo-Op?

Don't believe your lying eyes.

“President Trump Visits St. John’s Episcopal Church” by The White House is in the Public Domain, CC0

An investigation by the Interior Department’s Inspector General returns a rather surprising finding. But there’s less to it than meets the eye.

NPR (“Watchdog Report Says Police Did Not Clear Protesters To Make Way For Trump Photo-Op“):

The U.S. Park Police did not clear protesters from a park outside the White House so then-President Donald Trump could take a photo-op at a nearby church, an Interior Department inspector general’s report found.

“[T]he evidence established that relevant USPP officials had made those decisions and had begun implementing the operational plan several hours before they knew of a potential Presidential visit to the park, which occurred later that day,” Interior Department Inspector General Mark Greenblatt wrote in a statement with the report’s release Wednesday. “As such, we determined that the evidence did not support a finding that the USPP cleared the park on June 1, 2020, so that then President Trump could enter the park.”

Trump walked to St. John’s Church, which had been damaged the day before during protests over racial injustice. As he did, law enforcement violently cleared what had been mostly peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park.

As those scenes unfolded, Trump posed for photographs, holding up a Bible outside the church.

The report noted that the Park Police made the decision “to allow a contractor to safely install antiscale fencing in response to destruction of Federal property and injury to officers.”

The report, however, “does not clear law enforcement on use of force and acknowledges problem with its response. … This report does not address allegations of individual use-of-force incidents, as those are the subject of separate inquiries as well as ongoing lawsuits.” [emphasis mine – jhj]

ABC News (“Police did not clear Lafayette Square so Trump could hold ‘Bible’ photo op: Watchdog“) adds:

U.S. Park Police did not clear Lafayette Park and the nearby area of protesters on June 1, 2020, so President Donald Trump could walk from the White House over to St. John’s Church, but learned of his interest in surveying the site hours after they already had begun planning to clear the area to put up new fencing, according to a new watchdog report.

The Interior Department’s inspector general did not determine whether law enforcement acted inappropriately against demonstrators last year and did not focus on individual incidents of police use of force, but found that poor communication between agencies and ineffective dispersal warnings “may have contributed to confusion during the operation and the use of tactics that appeared inconsistent” with initial plans.

Specifically, the report found that Bureau of Prisons officers on the scene used pepper spray against protestors and that Metropolitan Police officers used tear gas, despite orders from Park Police not to do so.

Additionally, Secret Service deployed against protestors before the first dispersal orders were given – and warnings asking demonstrators to disperse were not heard by protestors before police started aggressively clearing the park. [emphases mine -jhj]

The NYT (“Park Police Had Planned to Clear Area Before Trump’s Walk to Church, Watchdog Says“) adds:

[T]he report’s author was careful to warn it was not to be seen as a definitive account of the day, in part because so many other law enforcement agencies were involved. The inspector general, Mark L. Greenblatt, noted that it was not in his jurisdiction to investigate what the Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies knew and who might have ordered them to use force to clear the park.

“It was a fulsome review of everything in our jurisdiction,” Mr. Greenblatt said in an interview. “The unfortunate thing is not everything is in our jurisdiction.”

[…]

The head of operations for the Park Police learned about Mr. Trump’s plan when Mr. Barr came to inspect the area, the report said.

“Are these people still going to be here when POTUS comes out?” Mr. Barr asked, according to the report, referring to the president of the United States.

The operations commander replied to Mr. Barr, “Are you freaking kidding me?” He then hung his head and walked away, the report said.

Shortly after that, the confrontation turned violent.

The report said Mr. Greenblatt did not seek to interview Mr. Barr, White House personnel or the Secret Service, among others, regarding decisions that did not involve the Park Police. Other agencies involved that day included the National Guard, the United States Capitol Police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. [emphases mine -jhj]

Glenn Greenwald is touting this as yet another media smear campaign against Trump that turned out to be a lie and some Internet rando is demanding that I apologize for my posting based on the initial reporting titled “Protestors Tear Gassed to Clear Way for Trump Photo Op.” But nothing here changes my mind about the incident. As I noted the morning after,

There’s no proof Trump himself gave the order. But we know the whole scheme was concocted yesterday morning and that “U.S. Secret Service uniformed officers, military police and other law enforcement” were the ones who ordered the protesters to disperse and fired tear gas on them when they didn’t do so.

That still seems to be the situation. The Trump-appointed Inspector General at the Interior Department has cleared the US Park Police of wrongdoing. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this was an honest accounting of what the Park Police did that day.

The report pointedly does not clear other law enforcement agencies, notably the Secret Service. Indeed, they confirmed what we saw with our own eyes on the numerous videos taken by news organizations: the Secret Service, Bureau of Prisons, and DC Metro Police used pepper spray against protestors without so much as issuing audible orders to disperse or giving them time to do so.

So, the story remains what it was a year ago and yesterday morning: someone, or multiple someones, ordered teargas to be fired on peaceful protestors to force them to disperse so that Trump could stage a photo-op at a church.

FILED UNDER: Police
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. The central fact remains: the square was cleared (and, IIRC, cleared earlier than curfew orders would have required) and the President of the United States decided to use that clearance to stage a photo op.

    This is indisputable.

    It is strange to me that people like Greenwald (and Matt Taibbi) see this report as some kind of exoneration of Trump.

    19
  2. Chip Daniels says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Right, I think its absurd to claim that brutally tear-gassing peaceful protesters to [erect a fence] is somehow better than brutally teargassing peaceful protesters to [stage a photo op].

    10
  3. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Greenwald like other former leftist commentators that lost or never gained credibility among progressives, are trying to become darlings of the right by declaring they, have seen the light. It worked for Irving Kristol and the the neo conservatives, now these mutts hope to be neo-neo conservatives.

    8
  4. SKI says:

    The head of operations for the Park Police learned about Mr. Trump’s plan when Mr. Barr came to inspect the area, the report said.

    “Are these people still going to be here when POTUS comes out?” Mr. Barr asked, according to the report, referring to the president of the United States.

    The operations commander replied to Mr. Barr, “Are you freaking kidding me?” He then hung his head and walked away, the report said.

    Let’s review how to deceive with facts:

    The Park police planned to clear the Park, likely after curfew.

    AG Barr comes out and asked about the timing.

    The Park gets violently cleared in time for Trump to do his photo-op.

    The IG concludes that Trump’s visit wasn’t the reason it was cleared.

    The IG doesn’t look at (a) the other agency’s actions or (b) whether the timing or tactics of the Park Police changed due to the photo-op.

    Headlines claim something that the actual facts don’t allow us to conclude.

    27
  5. Michael Reynolds says:

    @SKI:
    Yep.

    1
  6. gVOR08 says:

    And IIRC it’s only a week or two ago they admitted they actually used tear gas as opposed to some weasel worded chemical agent.

    2
  7. ptfe says:

    The same US Park Police that denied tear gas was used and originally claimed the action was because protestors were throwing bricks and caustic liquids? Both of which were…uh…proven false? That USPP?

    Yeah, they can take their excuses and shove them up a convenient orifice.

    11
  8. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Somehow all recordings of communications between USPP and SS and other agencies have gone missing.
    There is a name redacted that wanted the timing of the park clearing moved up.
    This clears up almost nothing.

    4
  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    Even if we take this report at face value, it’s still portraying it as a “will nobody rid me of this troublesome priest?” incident, where Trump denies responsibility for X since he never explicitly said to do X even though he made it clear he wanted X done.

    5
  10. wr says:

    It’s amazing how it turns out no one is actually responsible for anything if you never bother to talk to any of the people who were actually responsible.

    Why official Washington — up to and including Biden’s justice department — are continuing to cover up Trump’s crimes against the people of the United States is beyond me. Yes, I know, institutions protect themselves — but do they also have to protect every corrupt piece of shit who ever worked in them?

    8
  11. Stormy Dragon says:

    Another thing to note is that Greenblatt is another of Trump’s “serial nominees” who kept getting appointed to various positions around the administration, so given the rather incomplete nature of the investigation, one has to wonder if he was actually even trying to find out what happened or just going through the motions.

    4
  12. mattbernius says:

    Specifically, the report found that Bureau of Prisons officers on the scene used pepper spray against protestors and that Metropolitan Police officers used tear gas, despite orders from Park Police not to do so.

    When all the crowd control training that you have is shaped like a hammer…

    6
  13. al Ameda says:

    @SKI:

    Headlines claim something that the actual facts don’t allow us to conclude.

    Exactly.
    I am beginning to feel that we are letting all of this malfeasance – from January 20, 2017 through January 6, 2021 – receed back into the toxic mists that spawned this 4-1/2 year dance with the devil. It’s as if we’re gaslighting ourselves. This is how we let Trump back into the White House in 2024. It’s early, but I’m not hopeful that we’ve seen the last of Trump.

    2
  14. Raoul says:

    Am I going to believe the IG or my lying eyes? The real story here is the ongoing reputational descent of the various IG agencies in the federal government.

    1
  15. senyordave says:

    @al Ameda: It’s early, but I’m not hopeful that we’ve seen the last of Trump.
    I used to think “just wait until he’s indicted”. Now I don’t believe he will be indicted, and even if he is half of the country will believe he’s being railroaded. I used to think “nobody will vote for him in 2024, he can’t string two sentences together”. Now I know for half the country that’s a feature not a bug. I know he would be a martyr but at this point I’ll take a massive stroke from the TFG.

  16. Kurtz says:

    @ptfe:

    Why give them the option of a convenient one?

  17. Kurtz says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    It is strange to me that people like Greenwald (and Matt Taibbi) see this report as some kind of exoneration of Trump.

    As someone who respects people willing to continue evolving their views…these two seem to be doing something different. It’s like their commitment is to a superficial attitude rather than a legitimate process.

    Other thoughts:

    They both need editors but their work is no longer worth the cost of trying to fight with them. They went to Substack.

    They are trying too hard to appear objective.

    1
  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    So it wasn’t for the photo op, it was for the sake of the violent thuggery of it? I’m glad we cleared that up. 🙁

    4
  19. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: It is strange to me that people like Greenwald (and Matt Taibbi) see this report as some kind of exoneration of Trump.

    Not strange at all to me.

    1
  20. Scott O says:

    Where is Jon Lovitz when we need him? Trump was just out for a walk. With a bible. And a general. Yeah, that’s the ticket.
    So easy to treat these things as a joke but it’s not funny, it’s frightening.

  21. Ken_L says:

    Barr participated in – i.e. directed – a meeting with the Park Police and Secret Service that planned to install new fencing. Later in the day, Barr told the police to hurry up and clear the protesters. Shortly afterwards, Trump emerged with a bunch of lackeys and the Chair of the Joint Chiefs – in combat uniform – and led them majestically to the church where he staged an utterly pointless stunt for the cameras.

    It’s an insult to people’s intelligence to suggest these events were unrelated.

    2