Margaret Brennan just completed an interview with Attorney General Bill Barr on CBS Face the Nation. For days, the allegation from politicians, the press, protesters, and pundits has been that the Park was cleared for the purpose of the widely criticized photo op held by Trump in front of St. John’s Church. For example, in an uncorrected segment still up on the Internet, NPR declares “Peaceful Protesters Tear-Gassed To Clear Way For Trump Church Photo-Op.” (Tear gas was also not actually used as opposed to pepper spray — though that distinction is technical at best since pepper spray has much of the same impact on individuals even if it is based on capsicum). The photo op allegation continues to be repeated on the Internet despite various media reports debunking it. This morning Barr confirmed the details in those reports and offered some new details. Barr however continues to support the level of force used in the Park and the decision to go forward with the clearing of the Park
Barr confirmed that the plan to clear the park came from the Park Police, which asked for the expansion of the perimeter on Sunday night. He reviewed the plan Monday morning and, with others, approved the plan. The order was transmitted to Park Police at 2 pm. (I will return to that issue). Here is the key exchange:
BARR: I’m going to- let me get to this, because this has been totally obscured by the media. They broke into the Treasury Department, and they were injuring police. That night,–
MARGARET BRENNAN: Sunday night?
BARR: Sunday night, the park police prepared a plan to clear H Street and put a- a larger perimeter around the White House so they could build a more permanent fence on Lafayette.
MARGARET BRENNAN: This is something you approved on Sunday night?
BARR: No. The park police on their own on- on Sunday night determined this was the proper approach. When I came in Monday, it was clear to me that we did have to increase the perimeter on that side of Lafayette Park and push it out one block. That decision was made by me in the morning. It was communicated to all the police agencies, including the Metropolitan Police at 2:00 p.m. that day. The effort was to move the perimeter one block, and it had to be done when we had enough people in place to achieve that. And that decision, as I say, was communicated to the police at 2:00 p.m.. The operation was run by the park police. The park police was facing what they considered to be a very rowdy and non-compliant crowd. And there were projectiles being hurled at the police. And at that point, it was not to respond–
MARGARET BRENNAN: On Monday, you’re saying there were projectiles–
BARR: On Monday, yes there were.
MARGARET BRENNAN: As I’m saying, three of my colleagues were there.
MARGARET BRENNAN: They did not see projectiles being thrown–
BARR: I was there.
MARGARET BRENNAN: –when that happened.
BARR: I was there. They were thrown. I saw them thrown.
Even at 2 p.m. the movement of the Park Police was not related to a decision to walk to the church and such a plan was not known to him or the Park Police since it came later in the day. Brennan did not challenge the reporting supporting that timeline or the fact that the order was unrelated.
Brennan does challenge what she said was Barr’s assertion that the Secretary Mark Esper did not rule out the use of the Insurrection Act. This may have been a lost in legal translation moment. It think Barr was making a narrower legal point while Brennan thought it was a more general statement. Here is what Barr said:
“The option to use active duty forces in a law enforcement role should only be used as a matter of last resort, and only in the most urgent and dire of situations. We are not in one of those situations now. I do not support invoking the Insurrection Act.”
Esper was not saying that the Act could not be used but should only be used as a “last resort.” Neither Barr not Esper supported invoking the Act, i.e., ordering deployments under the Act. Both however agreed it could be used as a legal matter if circumstances warranted. Here is what Barr said:
MARGARET BRENNAN: So in this Monday meeting with the president, when the Defense Secretary, who has now publicly said that he opposed using the Insurrection Act, you said what to the president?
BARR: I don’t think the Secretary of Defense said he opposed it. I think he said that it was a last resort and he didn’t think it was necessary. I think we all agree that it’s a last resort, but it’s ultimately the president’s decision. The- the reporting is completely false on this.
Both Esper and Barr seem to agree that the Act is available but that current circumstances do not warrant their use. Both agree it should be used as a “last resort.”
Here is where I disagree with Barr. If the park was to be cleared, it should have been done before the protesters appeared. Barr earlier said that he wanted it done in the morning for that reason. It was delayed waiting for reinforcements. In my view, it was mistake not to either clear the park in the morning or wait for the next morning. Barr’s position is that 150 federal officers had been injured and the park had to be cleared. He also insisted that the level of force was warranted. I again disagree. The move escalated the tension. We have seen the same decisions by District police and state police across the country. Indeed, a federal judge today issued an order to restrict state and local police in Oregon in the use of such means.
However, there continues to a common narrative being promulgated on the photo op. There are various investigations being demanded and we will likely get more information on whether Barr is outright lying on these details. However, it would be perfectly insane to do so when you are citing Park Police plans that will be available to Congress and the public in time.
Here is the transcript: Barr interview