According to a report released Wednesday by the Interior Department
's inspector general, police
violently removed protesters from a park near the White House
last June not to allow then-President Donald Trump
to stage a photo op at a nearby church, but to allow a contractor to install fencing.
The fencing was erected “in response to the destruction of Federal property and injury
to officers that occurred on May 30 and May 31,” according to Interior Department Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt in a statement.
Officials with the United States
Park Police decided to clear the square “several hours before they were aware of a potential Presidential visit to the park,” he added.
The officers used tear gas
, pepper balls, rubber bullets, and flash grenades to disperse the crowd minutes before Trump's infamous visit to St. John's Episcopal Church near Lafayette Square
, in which he held up a Bible while standing alongside several military
and Cabinet officials.
Demonstrators had gathered in the square to protest the murder
of George Floyd
, a Black man, by a white Minneapolis
police officer a week earlier, and the church had been damaged by a fire the night before during protests.
Trump condemned the looting and riots that occurred during some of the massive nationwide protests in a Rose Garden speech just minutes before heading to the church, declaring himself "your law
and order president."
Trump's appearance at the church sparked widespread criticism, with many accusing the White House of ordering police to clear the square solely for the photo op, infringing on protesters' First Amendment
During a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the matter in July 2020, then-head of the United States Park Police, Gregory Monahan, denied that the square's clearing was related to the church visit.
“There is absolutely no correlation between our operation and the president’s visit,” Monahan had stated, adding that the area needed to be cleared in order for no-scale fencing to be installed.
Monahan testified that the decision to install fencing and use chemical irritants to clear protesters that day was due to “sustained violence” against law enforcement in Washington
However, when asked for an example of such violence by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Monahan could only recall
one incident in which a protester hit a police officer wearing a helmet with a brick.
Trump thanked Greenblatt for “completely and totally exonerating me” in the matter in a statement issued on Wednesday.
“As we have said all along, and as supported by today’s highly detailed and professionally written report, our fine Park Police decided to clear the park to allow a contractor to safely install antiscale fencing,” Trump said.
Nonetheless, the inspector general's office discovered "weaknesses with the operation to clear the park," including US Secret Service
deployment before police had begun dispersal warnings, which were not loud enough for everyone to hear, according to Greenblatt's statement.
In its report, the inspector general's office made two recommendations: "Given the lack of a specific policy, we recommend that the USPP develop a detailed policy for protests and other events of the type that occurred on June 1, and improve its field communication procedures to better manage multiagency operations."