Officials blow big holes in Trump administration story about the violent clearing of Lafayette Square

Officials blow big holes in Trump administration story about the violent clearing of Lafayette Square
President Donald J. Trump walks from the White House Monday evening, June 1, 2020, to St. John’s Episcopal Church, known as the church of Presidents’s, that was damaged by fire during demonstrations in nearby LaFayette Square Sunday evening. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
News & Politics

The official story about the violent clearing of Lafayette Square so Donald Trump could have a photo op has changed several times, and it’s still filled with lies. Lie after lie has come from the Trump administration—Attorney General William Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, the White House itself. The protesters were violent, they’ve claimed. Falsely. The protesters were warned to move, they’ve claimed. Also falsely. There was no tear gas, they said. Also falsely. There were a lot of reporters on the scene, and The Washington Post did a video reconstruction of what happened that clearly shows the lies.

But the Trump administration and U.S. Park Police (an agency with a loooong history of being the bad guys when it comes to protest) keep making those false claims. So The Washington Post went to other officials who were in on the planning, and found that, yup, the Trump administration and Park Police are lying, specifically and in particular about the claim that there was a plan in place to expand the security perimeter before Trump’s decision to do a photo op outside St. John’s Church.

“I never heard any plan, ever, that police or National Guard were going to push people out of Lafayette Square,” said Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau. He further said that while there was a discussion about moving the perimeter at some point, “there was no talk that ‘we’re going to go in and push it out.’”

A D.C. Police spokesperson similarly said: ”We knew that they were considering the perimeter expansion, but there was no indication if or when it would happen.”

And: “No one said in the room, ‘We are going to push the perimeter back X amount of feet,’” according to an unnamed defense official. “However, there was discussion about the possibility of having to do that if certain conditions existed.”

The Justice Department and Park Police continue to insist that the decision was made before Trump decided to take his little walk.

In addition to violations of the protesters’ constitutional rights, the Park Police violated a very specific federal settlement they entered into in 2015—not exactly ages ago—requiring that they give protesters repeated warnings audible to people at the back of a crowd and leave a clear exit path before clearing a protest. The clearing of Lafayette Square and the expansion of the perimeter—which was only fenced off hours later, showing again that this was not a carefully planned action but rather a last-minute push—also violated “everything we train to do,” according to a former chief of the U.S. Capitol Police.

The Trump administration is going to keep lying about the fact that they brutally attacked peaceful protesters so Donald Trump could get a photo op. But the lies are provable and visible. It’s not a tough call regarding what happened here, and this is one of the reasons so many retired generals are calling Trump out on his abuses of authority.

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