- Washington, DC’s Lafayette Park was not cleared in June 2020 for a Trump photo op, the Interior Department watchdog says.
- The US Park Police and Secret Service already planned on clearing the area to install new fencing.
- Trump walked through the park after the plans to clear protesters were already in motion.
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Law enforcement officials cleared Washington, DC’s Lafayette Park to put up fencing – not to enable former President Donald Trump’s now-infamous photo op at St. John’s Church in June 2020, an internal watchdog for the Interior Department concluded in a report released Wednesday.
On June 1, the Secret Service and US Park Police, with assistance from other agencies, used tear gas and other forceful methods, including pushing demonstrators and striking them with batons, to clear a group of largely peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square, which is right next to the White House.
The demonstrations took place just days after George Floyd was murdered by a former Minneapolis police officer and as Trump vowed that rioters and looters would be met with force.
Shortly after the park was cleared, Trump and other officials arrived on scene to walk through the park. He was then photographed holding up a Bible outside St. John’s Episcopal Church. The controversial photo op drew sharp criticism from Episcopal leaders, and created the perception that Trump had the park cleared for his benefit.
The report from Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt, however, said that the area was cleared to allow contractors to install special anti-scale fencing to further secure the perimeter around the park. The new fencing had arrived that same morning, it said.
“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,” the report said. “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 further concluded that the US Park Police didn’t know about Trump’s plans to walk through the park and take a photo until the afternoon of June 1, “hours after it had begun developing its operational plan and the fencing contractor had arrived in the park.”