More than 1,250 former Justice Department employees have signed a letter calling for an investigation into Attorney General Bill Barr’s role in the clearing of Lafayette Square just before President Trump walked over to St. John’s Church in Waashington, D.C. on June 1.
They are asking Inspector General Michael Horowitz to look into the “full scope” of Barr’s and the Justice Department’s role in quelling recent civil unrest following the death of George Floyd in police custody.
“We are deeply concerned about the Department’s actions, and those of Attorney General William Barr himself, in response to the nationwide lawful gatherings to protest the systemic racism that has plagued this country throughout its history,” read the letter, signed by 1,264 ex-DOJ employees from both Republican and Democrat administrations.
“In particular, we are disturbed by Attorney General Barr’s possible role in ordering law enforcement personnel to suppress a peaceful domestic protest in Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020, for the purpose of enabling President Trump to walk across the street from the White House and stage a photo op at St. John’s Church, a politically motivated event in which Attorney General Barr participated,” it continued.
One day after Park Police used pepper balls and smoke canisters to clear Lafayette Park shortly before Trump, along with Barr, walked over to the church and posed for a photo, administration officials told Fox News it was Barr who ordered the clearing.
“While the full scope of the Attorney General’s role is not yet clear, he has admitted that he was present in front of the White House before law enforcement personnel took action to disperse the crowd. Department of Justice and White House personnel initially said that the Attorney General gave an order to law enforcement personnel to 'get going' or 'get it done,'” the DOJ alumni letter read.
“Based on what we now know, these actions violated both the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which protects freedom of speech and the press, and the right to assemble; and the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable seizures, to include objectively unreasonable uses of force by law enforcement officers,” it continued.
However, a senior administration official told Fox News the plan to clear the park had been made Monday morning just after the Treasury Department and the church had been vandalized the night before. Trump’s visit to the church took place Monday evening.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany later confirmed it was Barr who gave the orders to push back the barrier.
“So he said that we needed to get going with moving that perimeter. He told the officers that out there,” McEnany said last Wednesday.
On Monday afternoon, according to an official, Barr went to survey the scene. But after arriving, the source said, he was upset to find out the perimeter had not been widened like it was supposed to be earlier in the day. Barr, who was surrounded by his security detail, toured the police line keeping the protestors at bay while demonstrators shouted at him.
Someone threw a bottle at Barr when he was there, the official said. He gave the order to move people out before the president arrived. Shortly after, police mounted on horses used smoke to move protesters demonstrating against police brutality.
But over the weekend, Barr told the Associated Press he did not give a command to disperse the crowd, though he supported the decision.
On Friday, Barr told the AP that both he and U.S. Park Police were in agreement on the need to push back the security perimeter. He said he attended a meeting around 2 p.m. Monday with several other law enforcement officials, including Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham, where they looked at a map and decided on a dividing line. Under the plan, the protesters would be moved away from Lafayette Park and federal law enforcement officials and members of the National Guard would maintain the perimeter line, Barr said.
Still, he said he did not give the officers the orders to proceed — they were already in the process of doing so when he showed up.
“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 said. “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.'"
“I’m not involved in giving tactical commands like that," he said. “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.’”
Critics say the park was aggressively cleared of peaceful protesters for President Trump’s photo op at the church. Park Police have said protesters were unruly when they asked them to clear the area.
“We are also disturbed by the Attorney General’s deployment of federal law enforcement officers throughout the country, and especially within the District of Columbia, to participate in quelling lawful First Amendment activity,” the letter continued.
As of Tuesday, 38,498 National Guard soldiers were still active across the country to help quell civil unrest — a decline from the 43,300 active on Saturday.
The former Justice Department workers noted reports that law enforcement officers had interacted with protesters without displaying or providing identification.
Barr had tapped every Justice Department law enforcement agency-- including the Bureau of Prisons and the Drug Enforcement Agency-- to help quell riots.
“We have profound doubts that the personnel deployed from these agencies are adequately trained in policing mass protests or protecting the constitutional rights of individuals who are not subject to arrest or have not been convicted of a crime.”
The DOJ alumni penned a letter last month calling on Barr to resign after his decision to move to drop the case against former national security adviser Michael Flynn after internal memos raised serious questions about the nature of the investigations.
“Attorney General Barr’s repeated actions to use the Department as a tool to further President Trump’s personal and political interests have undermined any claim to the deference that courts usually apply to the Department’s decisions about whether or not to prosecute a case,” read a statement on Medium signed by 1,956 DOJ alumni.