The report also found that D.C. police officers fired tear gas at protesters as they moved away from the park toward 17th Street, the Park Police did not deploy tear gas on June 1, but did on previous days, and Bureau of Prisons officers fired pepper spray munitions from the park without provocation during the clearing. Investigators also found that the audio warnings issued by the Park Police before the operation were not widely heard by the crowd and mostly ineffective.
The report by the Interior Department’s inspector general focuses on the Park Police and does not fully address questions about the involvement of other agencies or the Trump administration in the events of June 1. Interior officials said they may not have heard all of the discussions that went on about the operation within the Secret Service or the White House, but that those discussions did not affect how and when the Park Police acted. The investigators did not interview Secret Service or White House personnel.
The report found that preparations to clear the protesters and erect a fence began two days before the park clearing. But the idea may have gained greater urgency on the morning of June 1, in a meeting Trump held in the Oval Office with his chief of staff, military advisers, Attorney General William P. Barr and other law enforcement officials. The Washington Post has previously reported that Trump was furious at reporting that revealed he had been taken to an emergency bunker on the first night of protests that previous Friday night and the poor impression created that he had no control over the protests consuming key downtown areas in the nation’s capital, according to multiple law enforcement sources and Trump advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity at the time due to the sensitivity of the incident.
The group agreed the Park Police and supporting teams of law enforcement officers would extend the perimeter and gradually push protesters further away from the White House and St. John’s Church, which had been vandalized the previous night. By midday, Trump was working with close confidants on a plan to project his control over the city by walking across Lafayette Square outside the White House and over to the church, the Trump advisers said at the time.
Park Police officials, including then-acting chief Gregory Monahan and an unidentified incident commander, told inspector general investigators that they learned “around mid- to late afternoon ... of the President’s unscheduled movement to Lafayette Park.” Both Park Police officials reported that “they were not told a specific time for the President’s potential arrival and that learning this information did not change their operational timeline,” which was to push protesters back as soon as National Guard officers and the fencing arrived, both of which occurred after 5 p.m.
“I can tell you with 100 percent certainty,” Monahan told the investigators, “that the Secret Service and the Park Police ... timeline did not change the entire day.”
However, a redacted portion of the report seems to indicate that an unnamed government official asked for an earlier clearing of the park. Monahan told investigators he was not given a reason for the request, and that he rejected it and “stated the clearing operation would begin once all law enforcement officers ... were in place.” This does not seem to be a reference to Barr’s visit to the park shortly after 6 p.m. That visit is described elsewhere by a Park Police operations commander who said the attorney general asked when the protesters would be moved, and that Barr did not give an order at that time to clear the park. The commander said the conversation with Barr was the first he’d heard that Trump was coming.
As protests sprang up around Lafayette Square after the May 25, 2020, killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Park Police began getting pelted with water bottles, rocks and fireworks which led to 49 officer injuries through May 31. At 6:32 p.m. on June 1, Park Police officers joined by Arlington County Police and Secret Service officers began clearing H Street on the north side of the park.
Twelve minutes later, Trump began speaking in the White House Rose Garden. “What happened last night was a total disgrace,” the president said. “As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults and the wanton destruction of property.”
The thumping of munitions and wailing of sirens could be heard in the background as Trump spoke.
At 7:02 p.m., Trump began walking to the park, and at 7:06 p.m. he stood in front of St. John’s church on H Street and held up a Bible for a photo opportunity.
Interior officials said they found no evidence that the Park Police cleared the square for the photo opportunity.
“If we had found that type of evidence,” Interior Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt said, “we would not hesitate in presenting that, and saying that was influencing the Park Police’s decision-making to clear the park. Just so you know, if we had found that, if we had seen that type of evidence, we would absolutely have reported that, without a doubt.” Greenblatt was appointed during the Trump administration.
Trump issued a statement Wednesday thanking the inspector general for “Completely and Totally exonerating me in the clearing of Lafayette Park!” The former president said “our fine Park Police made the decision to clear the park to allow a contractor to safely install antiscale fencing.”
Scott Michelman, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of D.C., said in a statement the government “has given various conflicting explanations” for the clearing of Lafayette Square.
The ACLU of D.C., Black Lives Matter, other civil liberties groups and individual protesters are suing Trump and senior officials in connection with the incident. The government has asked a judge to dismiss the suits.
“These shifting explanations cannot distract from the fundamental problem: The force used against the demonstrators at Lafayette Square was grossly excessive in relation to any conceivably legitimate purpose,” Michelman said in his statement.
After a night of violence in and around the park on May 31, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser had announced a 7 p.m. curfew for June 1, and many wondered why the Park Police didn’t wait for the curfew before taking on the protesters. According to the report, the Park Police incident commander told investigators, “We were not enforcing the mayor’s curfew. We’re a federal entity. We don’t work directly for the mayor.”
Instead, the operation arose out of a meeting on May 30, two days earlier, in which the Park Police and Secret Service jointly decided “to establish a more secure perimeter around Lafayette Park” in response to the protests, the report states. A fencing contractor told the investigators that the Secret Service contacted her on May 30 to discuss erecting the fence, that it agreed to do so if police created a safe area for the builders and preferred to do so in daylight.
A federal procurement data website shows a solicitation from the Secret Service to build the fence, for more than $1.1 million, was issued on May 30 and contracted on June 1. The report states that all fencing materials were in place on 17th Street by 5:30 p.m., that construction began at 7:30 p.m., shortly after Trump’s visit ended, and was finished by 12:30 a.m.
Bureau of Prisons officers showed up after the briefing, the report states, and it was not clear if they were told not to use pepper balls. The report says the BOP officers did fire pepper balls from inside the park, possibly because they heard stun and stinger-ball grenades used by Park Police and reacted to those, but no protesters had tried to breach the park.
D.C. police have acknowledged that its officers used tear gas as the protesters moved toward them, though they were not involved in the initial push away from the park and were not subject to the Park Police directives on use of force. A department spokeswoman said in a statement that officers acted to protect themselves after people threw objects at them, including an “incendiary device” that burned an officer.
Greenblatt said a separate investigation was being done into the use of force by Park Police during the operation.
Peter Hermann contributed to this report.