Following the publishing of this story, law enforcement officials said smoke canisters and pepper balls, not tear gas, were used in the incident. The story has been updated.
Democratic leaders on Monday seized on reports the Park Police used tear gas against protesters in Washington D.C.'s Lafayette Square before President Trump walked through the area to visit St. John's Church, but officials said neither the police nor any other law enforcement agency used the chemical. Park Police did acknowledge using smoke canisters and pepper balls on the protesters, which are sometimes more broadly defined as tear gas.
“As many of the protesters became more combative, continued to throw projectiles, and attempted to grab officers’ weapons, officers then employed the use of smoke canisters and pepper balls when protesters did scatter from the area," the statement said.
"It’s said that a lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can get its pants on," Trump 2020 spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a statement. "This tear gas lie is proof of that. For nearly an entire day, the whole of the press corps frantically reported the ‘news’ of a tear gas attack on ‘peaceful’ protestors in Lafayette Park, with no evidence to support such claims. We now know through the U.S. Park Police that neither they, nor any of their law enforcement partners, used tear gas to quell rising violence."
Officials were prompted to issue the denial after harsh criticism from Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
"Tonight the President of the United States used the American military to shoot peaceful protestors with rubber bullets & tear gas them. For a photo op," Clinton said. "This is a horrifying use of presidential power against our own citizens, & has no place anywhere, let alone in America. Vote."
"He's using the American military against the American people. He tear-gassed peaceful protesters and fired rubber bullets. For a photo," Biden remarked. "For our children, for the very soul of our country, we must defeat him. But I mean it when I say this: we can only do it together."
"The President of the United States tear-gassed peaceful protestors in order to clear the way for a useless photo-op outside the White House—just after vowing to activate the military against our own people. Lives and our democracy are in danger," Warren said.
Judd Deere, the White House's deputy press secretary, gave a statement on Monday to explain the actions against protesters.
"The perimeter was expanded to help enforce the 7 p.m. curfew in the same area where rioters attempted to burn down one of our nation's most historic churches the night before. Protesters were given three warnings by the U.S. Park Police," Deere said, according to NPR.
During the brief visit at the boarded-up church, the president stood in front and posed for photographers while holding up a Bible. He was accompanied by a variety of aides and officials, including Attorney General Bill Barr, daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
The removal of the protesters came as Trump gave a statement in the Rose Garden that he is taking "immediate action” to mobilize “all available federal resources” to stop riots and looting across the country. He also threatened to deploy the military if states don’t send in the National Guard to the protests.
"I have recommended every governor deploy the National Guard in sufficient numbers to dominate the streets," the president said during his speech. "We are ending riots and lawlessness, we will end it today."
Looting, riots, and fires were reported in the nation's capital Sunday and in cities throughout the U.S in response to the death of George Floyd who died in police custody last Monday. Murtaugh noted that cops found stashes of weapons like glass bottles, baseball bats, and metal poles hidden near Lafayette Park before President Trump's jaunt to the church.
Floyd, 46, died after a police officer pressed his knee against his neck for more than eight minutes. Footage released of the incident showed Floyd shouting, “I cannot breathe” and, “Don’t kill me.”
Fox News' Morgan Phillips contributed to this report