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Park police had planned to clear the area before Trump went to church, watchdog says

WASHINGTON – A federal watchdog said on Wednesday that U.S. parks police planned to eliminate protesters from a park near the White House long before they learned that President Donald J. Trump was going for a walk in the region last year.

Home Department Inspector General’s report concluded “the evidence did not support a conclusion” that park police cleared the area just for Mr. Trump, who walked through it on June 1 of last year before posing for photographs in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church holding a Bible.

The explosion of violence in Lafayette Square, which came at the height of the racial justice protests last summer, has become one of the defining moments of the Trump presidency. Protesters in the shadow of the White House were repelled with smoke, flash grenades and chemical sprays deployed by shielded riot officers and mounted police.

The interior ministry inspector general’s 30-page report offers new details on the park’s police decision-making. And the sequence of events described in the report suggests the area clean-up operation turned violent shortly after park police were notified of Mr. Trump’s arrival.

But the author of the report was careful to warn that it should not be taken as a final account of the day, in part because so many other law enforcement agencies were involved. Inspector General Mark L. Greenblatt noted that it was not within his purview to investigate what the Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies knew and who allegedly ordered them to resort. to force to clean the park.

“It was a full review of everything in our jurisdiction,” Mr. Greenblatt said in an interview. “What is unfortunate is that it is not all within our purview.”

The long-awaited report was ordered by congressional lawmakers and former Home Secretary David Bernhardt to find out why park police dispersed the protesters and whether they were ordered to help to organize a presidential photo op.

According to the report, park police were planning to clean up the area so that contractors could put up new fences.

But protesters were allowed to gather there all day. Mr Greenblatt said it was because authorities were waiting for the contractors to arrive and enough law enforcement officers showed up to be able to clean up the park. This happened around 5:30 p.m., less than an hour before William P. Barr, the then attorney general, came to inspect the area himself.

Evidence showed that park police were not aware of Mr. Trump’s plan to cross the plaza until “mid or late afternoon on June 1 – a few hours after they began to elaborate. its operational plan and the fence contractor has arrived in the park, ”the report says.

The park’s police operations chief learned of Mr. Trump’s plan when Mr. Barr came to inspect the area, according to the report.

“Will these people still be there when POTUS comes out?” Mr Barr asked, according to the report, referring to the President of the United States.

The COO replied to Mr. Barr, “Are you kidding me?” He then lowered his head and walked away, according to the report.

Soon after, the confrontation turned violent.

Other agencies involved that day included the National Guard, the United States Capitol Police, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Mr Greenblatt noted that the Secret Service began their efforts to clean up the park before the park police issued their first dispersal warning. In a footnote, the report called the decision “operationally contrary to the plan.”

Mr. Trump released a statement Wednesday thanking the Inspector General for what he called “completely and totally exonerating me in the Lafayette Park glade!”

In an interview, Mr. Greenblatt said he didn’t appreciate the comment.

“It’s uncomfortable for me,” he said. “We are independent of any political administration. It is not at all a comfortable base for anyone in my community. “

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