Attorney General William Barr on Sunday sought to rewrite the narrative surrounding President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to walk across Lafayette Square on Monday to briefly hold a photo-op at St. John’s Church.
In a testy interview on CBS’s “Face The Nation” (video embedded below), Barr said the common view that peaceful protesters were moved for the photo-op was one of several “big lies” appearing in the media.
Asked if anything should have been done differently, Barr said he saw no obvious problems with the operation.
“Sometimes you have to move peaceful demonstrators for a short distance in order to accomplish public safety, and that’s what was done here,” Barr said. “You have qualified [law] enforcement officials with shields, moving slowing. They had mounted officers moving slowly.”
Barr said the protesters were given three warnings, and the decision to clear the area around the church was made Sunday night and then reconfirmed on Monday at 2 p.m — and thus, according to Barr’s account, not tied to Trump’s walk across the park.
“I gave the green light at 2 o’clock. Obviously I didn’t know that the president was going to be speaking later that day,” Barr said.
The assembled protesters, widely described as unarmed and peaceful and including several clergy members, were, according to Barr, “a very rowdy, noncompliant crowd.” Projectiles were thrown, Barr said, and the police met resistance when they moved on the protesters.
Protesters and media on the scene dispute the claim, saying the police moved suddenly and used some sort of gas bombs and batons.
Barr said neither tear gas nor chemical irritants were used.
“There was no gassing,” Barr said.
“Pepper spray,” he added, “is not a chemical.”