Trump's Bible photo-op not the reason why police cleared protesters out of DC park: gov’t report

President Donald Trump holds a Bible while visiting St. John's Church across from the White House in Washington, D.C., after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd on June 1, 2020.
President Donald Trump holds a Bible while visiting St. John's Church across from the White House in Washington, D.C., after the area was cleared of people protesting the death of George Floyd on June 1, 2020. | White House

President Donald Trump’s controversial photo shoot of him holding a Bible outside of a church near the White House in Washington, D.C. was not tied to the police clearing of Lafayette Park outside the White House earlier in the day, according to a new federal government report.

The Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of the Interior released a report Wednesday titled “Review of U.S. Park Police Actions at Lafayette Park."

On June 1, 2020, the U.S. Park Police and National Guard dispersed protesters who had gathered in Lafayette Park following the death of George Floyd, an incident in which police in riot gear used chemical irritants.

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Minutes after the clearing operation, then-President Trump walked over to St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo shoot at the church that had been damaged by protesters the day before. 

The report concluded that the police “had the authority and discretion to clear Lafayette Park and the surrounding areas on June 1” and that, contrary to previous claims, there was no link between the dispersal of demonstrators and the Trump photo.

“The evidence we obtained did not support a finding that the USPP cleared the park to allow the President to survey the damage and walk to St. John’s Church,” stated the report.

“Instead, the evidence we reviewed showed that the USPP cleared the park to allow the contractor to safely install the antiscale fencing in response to destruction of property and injury to officers occurring on May 30 and 31.”

The report stated that the police had already planned to disperse before they learned of Trump’s plan to walk over to the church.

“Further, the evidence showed that the USPP did not know about the President’s potential movement until mid-to late afternoon on June 1—hours after it had begun developing its operational plan and the fencing contractor had arrived in the park,” continued the report.

The report said that the USPP incident commander stated that a Secret Service deputy chief
told him that the "President's visit would likely occur later that day or in the evening, after
protesters had been removed from the area."

"The USPP incident commander told us that he could not recall the specific time he learned about the President's potential visit to Lafayette Park," the report explained. "When we interviewed the USPP acting chief of police, he told us the USPP incident commander
told him sometime between 3 and 5 p.m. about the President's potential visit to assess the
damage to the park; although he could not identify precisely when during that 2-hour period he obtained this information, he confirmed that he learned of the potential visit before the DCNG arrived in Lafayette Park at approximately 5 p.m."

Some had raised concern about how then-Attorney General William Barr visited the park before 6 p.m. The report stressed that the attorney general asked the commander if the people would still be in the park when Trump came out. The report claims that the commander had not known until then that Trump would be coming through the park.

"The USPP operations commander denied that the Attorney General ordered him
to clear Lafayette Park and H Street," the report reads.

The Inspector General's Office noted that the report did not review “individual uses of force by USPP officers,” since they “are the subject of separate inquiries or ongoing lawsuits.”

On June 1 of last year, Lafayette Square Park in D.C. was one of many places across the country where activists were protesting the murder of George Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin.

The park lies between the White House and St. John’s Church, a historic Episcopal congregation where presidents going back to James Madison have attended services.

Park Police and National Guard troops forcefully cleared the pathway from the White House to the church, reportedly using tear gas and pushing peaceful protesters in the process.

Some in the media and public figures had claimed that the authorities cleared the park so that Trump would be able to walk peacefully to the church and give some remarks to the press.

Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington denounced Trump’s alleged clearing of the square for the sake of the photo shoot and brief comments to the media.

“The President just used a Bible and one of the churches of my diocese as a backdrop for a message antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our church stands for,” stated Bishop Budde in a Facebook post at the time. 

“To do so, he sanctioned the use of tear gas by police officers in riot gear to clear the church yard. I am outraged … In no way do we support the President’s incendiary response to a wounded, grieving nation.”

Others, including the Rev. Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, commended Trump for the walk to the church and photos holding the Bible.

“Trump made a statement by walking through Lafayette Park to St. John’s Episcopal Church that had been vandalized and partially burned Sunday night,” stated Graham in a Facebook post.

“He surprised those following him by holding up a Bible in front of the church. Thank you President Trump. God and His Word are the only hope for our nation.”

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

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