“I’m not involved in giving tactical commands like that,” Barr told the Associated Press. “I was frustrated and I was also worried that as the crowd grew, it was going to be harder and harder to do. So my attitude was get it done, but I didn’t say, ‘Go do it.’ ”
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Barr personally ordered the crowd of protesters be pushed back as part of a plan hatched far earlier in the day. According to a Justice Department official, law enforcement authorities, including Barr, had decided to extend the security perimeter outside the White House after earlier demonstrations over the death of George Floyd at police hands in Minneapolis turned violent. When Barr came to the scene Monday afternoon, the official said, he was “surprised” to see that hadn’t been done.
“He conferred with them to check on the status and basically said: ‘This needs to be done. Get it done,’ ” the Justice Department official said. The official added that Barr “assumed that any resistance from the protesters of being moved would be met with typical crowd-control measures.”
The following day, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany confirmed that account, noting that Barr “said that we needed to get going with moving that perimeter. He told the officers that out there.” McEnany did not immediately respond to an email Friday night.
At his own news conference Thursday, Barr said he had decided to extend the perimeter early Monday morning, and later, around 2 p.m., met with law enforcement agencies to lay out a plan for doing so. He said that officials could not get units in place soon enough to execute the plan before demonstrators arrived, but he did not address what happened in the minutes before police made their move.
A video of the incident shows Barr conferring with officials on the ground, and about 24 minutes later, police making an aggressive move on the crowd. The Associated Press reported that Barr “said it was a Park Police tactical commander — an official he never spoke to — who gave the order for the law enforcement agencies to move in and clear the protesters.”
“They told me they were about to make the announcement and I think they stretched the announcements over 20 minutes. During the time I was there, I would periodically hear announcements,” Barr told the Associated Press. “They had the Park Police mounted unit ready, so it was just a matter of execution. So, I didn’t just say to them, ‘Go.’ ”
Kerri Kupec, a Justice Department spokeswoman, claimed there was “no contradiction” between Barr’s and other officials’ comments — though her statement did not address McEnany and the Justice Department official saying specifically that Barr had told those on scene to take action.
“Earlier in the day, the Attorney General had approved and adopted a plan to move the perimeter in response to the violence that had occurred over the weekend. Subsequently, he checked in with federal law enforcement officials on the ground in Lafayette Square to see how it was proceeding,” Kupec said.
A Park Police spokesman did not immediately return an email message seeking comment.
At his Thursday news conference, Barr notably defended what happened soon after the demonstrators were cleared: President Trump walked across the now-empty area to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he snapped a photo with Barr, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and others.
“I think it was entirely appropriate for him to do,” Barr said.
The photo op, coupled with the move against protesters, has drawn intense criticism. Former defense secretary Jim Mattis, for example, wrote for the Atlantic: “When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”