Defense Secretary Mark Esper claims he had ‘no idea’ that force was going to be used to clear out protesters from Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. so that he and other members of the Trump Administration could survey damage at nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Esper was seen alongside President Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr outside the church Monday evening, shortly after law enforcement used tear gas, rubber bullets, and mounted officers to disperse hundreds of activists in the area.
Historic St. John’s was vanadalized during demonstrations on Sunday night, but protesters were said to be acting peacefully and were not in breach of curfew when they were forcefully removed to make way for Trump, Esper and Barr.
‘I thought I was going to do two things: to see some damage and to talk to the troops,’ Esper told NBC News Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, a senior White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, revealed on Tuesday that Trump hoped to make the aggressive action in Washington an example for the rest of the country.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper (center) claims he had ‘no idea’ that force was going to be used to clear out protesters from Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. so that he and other members of the Trump Administration could survey damage at nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church
Esper was seen alongside President Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr outside the church Monday evening, shortly after law enforcement used tear gas, rubber bullets, and mounted officers to disperse hundreds of activists in the area
Pictures of the President posing with a Bible outside the historic chapel were widely criticized.
AG Bill Barr was reportedly behind to the order to have demonstrators focibly removed.
It was said to be conceived as a way to allow Trump to demonstrate himself as the ‘law and order president’ and – came after the president vowed to use the military to restore order in cities across the country.
As a PR move it may have backfired, after global and national media broadcast images of shield-bearing and mounted police using force to clear Lafayette Park, an area whose use as a forum for demonstrations and speech has long been protected.
Mariann Budde, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington which oversees the church, said she was ‘outraged’ by the action. ‘The president cleared the park and courtyard of our church… stood in front of St Johns as if it were spiritual validation and justification for a message that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and God of justice,’ she said.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who had ordered a 7 pm curfew Monday, said she was ‘shocked’ that people who didn’t seem to provoke attack were ‘attacked’ by federal law enforcement who cleared the way for Trump.
The walk outside the White House gates – the first as president by the heavily-guarded Trump – came after he had been confined at home for more than a day.
Trump had been upset by the disclosure that Secret Service had taken him to bunker deep beneath the White House as police clashed with protesters Friday night, the Washington Post reported, and wondered why someone would disclose it to the press.
Although he was not there long, it clashed with the image of strength Trump usually likes to put forward.
President Trump walked across from White House to St. John’s Church to hold up a bible for a photo op
President Trump walked out of the White House surrounded by Cabinet officials, aides and security
President Trump walks in front of a graffiti filled wall on his way to visit St. John’s Episcopal Church
President Donald Trump holds a Bible as he talks to the media while standing in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church
Counselor to the president Hope Hicks has been identified as helping hatch the plan to have Donald Trump walk across Lafayette Park to pose in front of St. John’s Church
Trump was joined by Attorney General William Barr (L), White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows (2nd-L) and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany
Ivanka Trump (C) returns to the White House after U.S. President Donald Trump posed for photographs in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church June 01, 2020 in Washington, DC
Police fired tear gas into protesters in front of St. John’s church to clear them out for the president’s photo-op
U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr confers with U.S. Secret Service and other officials in the center of Lafayette Park shortly before riot police cleared the park and the surrounding area across from the White House for President Donald Trump to be able to walk to a photo opportunity in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, during a rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Washington, U.S. June 1, 2020
President Donald J. Trump returns after posing with a bible outside St. John’s Episcopal Church after delivering remarks in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington
Police form a line infront of St. John’s Episcopal Church as demonstrators protest the death of George Floyd, Sunday, May 31, 2020, near the White House in Washington. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Facing pressure to deliver a White House address, Trump instead decided to walk past a graffiti-prayed maintenance shack and tour the historic church, which had been scarred by fire amidst a spree of vandalism and looting Sunday night. The D.C. fire department was able to put out a blaze that broke out in the basement of the parish house adjacent to the church.
Longtime GOP operative Brendan Buck, a former spokesman for Speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan when he was a vice presidential nominee, blasted the decision.
‘We long ago lost sight of normal, but this was a singularly immoral act,’ he said.
‘The president used force against American citizens, not to protect property, but to soothe his own insecurities. We will all move on to the next outrage, but this was a true abuse of power and should not be forgotten,’ he said, the Washington Post reported. He earlier tweeted what happened is ‘immoral and abusive.’
Hicks was Trump’s longtime press aide, following him from the Trump Organization to the White House. She served as White House Communications Director before leaving to take a position with the Fox Corporation, then returning as a counselor to the president this year.
Rival former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday blasted Trump’s trip to the church ‘in order to stage a photo-op,’ and saying: ‘We can be forgiven for believing the president is more interested in power than in principle.’
‘The president held up the bible at St. John’s church yesterday. I just wish he opened it once in a while instead of brandishing it,’ Biden continued. ‘He’s preening and sweeping away all the guardrails that are protecting our democracy,’ Biden said.
Shortly before he left the White House grounds Monday to visit the church at 7:03 pm, Trump said from the Rose Garden he was ‘taking swift and decisive action to protect our great capital, Washington, D.C.’
‘What happened in this city last night was a total disgrace. As we speak, I am dispatching thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers to stop the rioting, looting, vandalism, assaults, and the wanton destruction of property,’ Trump said.