A report from the inspector general in the United States Interior Department is being met with wide skepticism after its findings claimed there was no connection between the violent removal of Black Lives Matter protesters in Lafayette Park outside of the White House and a photo op taken by former President Donald Trump shortly after at a nearby church last year.
The 41-page report by Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt, an appointee of Trump’s, stated that U.S. Park Police (USPP) did not force protesters to leave using violent methods on June 1, 2020, for the former president, but rather did so in order to install anti-scale fencing to deter property damage in the park.
“We found that the USPP had the authority and discretion to clear Lafayette Park and the surrounding areas on June 1,” the report said. “The evidence we obtained did not support a finding that the USPP cleared the park to allow the President to survey the damage and walk to St. John’s Church.”
The report did detail a number of problems with a number of agencies’ actions that day, including failure to alert protesters in the park that they were going to be forcefully removed from the vicinity if they didn’t leave themselves.
The report also sought to clear former Attorney General William Barr of any wrongdoing, stating that he had not ordered police to remove the protesters. However, the inspector general did acknowledge that Barr himself asked USPP about the clearing of the park before it happened.
“Are these people still going to be here when POTUS [President of the United States] comes out?” Barr asked to a commander of the USPP.
“Are you freaking kidding me?” that individual reportedly responded.
A number of individuals on social media have noted that the report is rife with problems and glaring omissions. For starters, while it claimed that Barr didn’t order USPP to attack and disperse demonstrators, it leaves redacted in the report who exactly it was that made the order. The idea that Barr didn’t issue the order is contradictory, too, to what the Trump White House had told the media in the days after it happened.
Trump himself thanked his former appointee for crafting the report, saying that it had exonerated him for what had happened.
“Thank you to the Department of the Interior Inspector General for Completely and Totally exonerating me in the clearing of Lafayette Park!” Trump said in a statement.
Other Trump allies on social media said the inspector general’s findings were an example of the media making baseless reports about the former president.
“Another grotesque lie proven false that was breathlessly and irresponsibly pushed by the media,” wrote J. Hogan Gidley, who served as principal deputy Press Secretary under Trump.
But many journalists are questioning the credibility of the report, pointing to its omissions and inconsistencies.
Truthout columnist William Rivers Pitt, who had written about the Lafayette Park incident back in June, said: “Clearing peaceful protesters with gas and rubber bullets just to erect a fence, at that specific moment? There are so many holes in this IG report, it should have been printed on Swiss cheese. This cannot, and must not, be the last word on one of the most appalling moments of the Trump administration, or any administration for that matter.”
CNN’s Jim Acosta echoed those sentiments, saying that Greenblatt’s report appeared to him to be an “audition” to “become inspector general at Mar-a-Lago.” Many questions remained about what happened on that day, Acosta added.
“What did the White House team know at the time? [The inspector general] did not speak to senior officials or the Secret Service,” Acosta noted. “It certainly raises more questions.”
The inconsistencies in what supposedly justified clearing the park of protesters on June 1, 2020, was another problem identified by critics of the report. “Bill Barr told Congress that Park Police cleared protesters from Lafayette Park for ‘security reasons,'” Richard Painter, the former chief White House ethics lawyer for former President George W. Bush, wrote in a tweet in response to the report. “Now the Interior Department says that construction crews needed to build a fence. These stories don’t add up.”
Writer and activist Charlotte Clymer, who was at Lafayette Park last summer, said she didn’t believe what Greenblatt had concluded.
“I’ve been to many protests in D.C. — what happened that day I’ve never seen happen at any protest in the District,” Clymer said. “My eyes did not lie to me, and yours did not lie to you. This is straight up bullshit.”
Dan Froomkin, editor of PressWatchers.org, suggested the excuse provided by the Interior Department — that the demonstrators were going to be cleared regardless of the photo op by Trump — seemed convenient to him.
“Sure, the Park Police at some point intended to clear Lafayette Park. But the timing and the brutality, with the AG literally breathing down their necks, is hardly a coincidence,” Froomkin said. “Let’s not be credulous idiots, OK?”
“No one should buy this excuse from the Interior Department investigator,” chimed in PoliticusUSA’s Sarah Reese Jones. “They want the American people to believe that it was all a big coincidence and that the Justice Department had no idea that Trump would be staging the photo-op.”
Such skepticism may be warranted, if not understandable, considering other watchdogs in the Trump administration blocked inquiries into the attack on protesters that day. Records obtained from the Project on Government Oversight earlier this year found that the Department of Homeland Security’s Trump-appointed inspector general refused outright to look into the matter, even though he was urged to do so by his own staff.
The attack on Black Lives Matter protesters, who had gathered at Lafayette Park on June 1 to demonstrate against the police-perpetrated killing of George Floyd, included the use of flash-bang grenades, rubber bullets, and tear gas by federal officers. After the police drove the protesters away with this barrage of weaponry, Trump walked, unimpeded, from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he posed for a photo with a bible in his hand.