House Democrats are demanding that four federal agencies explain the decision on Monday to clear protesters out of Lafayette Square ahead of President Donald Trump’s walk to St. John’s Church for a photo-op.
Four Democratic chairmen wrote to Attorney General William Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf on Wednesday seeking information and a briefing by next week about who gave the order to clear the park, which federal agencies were involved and what measures and authorizations were used.
“On Monday, we watched in horror as federal officers, mounted on horseback and clad in riot gear, used tear gas, pepper spray, smoke cannisters, stun grenades, and rubber bullets to forcibly remove peaceful protestors from public space adjacent to the White House. We want to be clear: the use of federal personnel to prevent American citizens from exercising their Constitutional right to peaceably assemble represents a direct threat to our democracy,” wrote Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York, Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith of Washington and Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.
The letter is the latest push among congressional Democrats to scrutinize the decision to clear the park for the President, and it represents an effort to jointly push for information on an action spread across the multiple federal agencies that have responded to the protests in Washington. The Trump administration has stonewalled much of House Democrats’ oversight efforts over the past year.
CNN reported Tuesday it was ultimately Barr who ordered the move to clear protesters, according to a Justice Department official. Barr and other top officials from agencies responsible for securing the White House had planned to secure a wider perimeter around Lafayette Square in response to fires and destruction on Sunday night.
Trump said Wednesday he was unaware of the tactics used to clear the park ahead of his visit to St. John’s Church, which happened while he was giving a speech in the Rose Garden. It was widely reported that the explosions could be heard from the Rose Garden while he spoke.
“When I said go to the church, I didn’t know, protesters or not, nobody tells me that. They say, ‘Yes sir, we’ll go to the church,’” he said.
Trump claimed law enforcement in the area “didn’t use tear gas,” which is untrue, according to the definition of tear gas used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.