Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Attorney General William Barr said it is a big lie by the media that protesters last Monday who were cleared from Lafayette Park were peaceful.
Partial transcript as follows:
BRENNAN: I want to ask you about some of the events of the week. On Monday, Lafayette Park was cleared of protesters. You’ve spoken about this. The federal agents who were there report up to you. Did you think it was appropriate for them to use smoke bombs, tear gas, pepper balls, projectiles at what appeared to be peaceful protesters?
BARR: They were not peaceful protesters. And that’s one of the big lies that the- the media is- seems to be perpetuating at this point.
BRENNAN: Three of my CBS colleagues were there. We talked to them.
BRENNAN: They did not hear warnings. They did not see protesters–
BARR: There were three warnings.
BARR: There were three warnings given. But let’s get back to why we took that action. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, OK, there were violent riots in- at Lafayette Park where the park police were under constant attack at the- behind their bike rack fences. On Sunday, things reached a crescendo. The officers were pummeled with bricks. Crowbars were used to pry up the pavers at the park and they were hurled at police. There were fires set in not only St. John’s Church, but a historic building at Lafayette was burned down.
BRENNAN: These were things that looters did.
BARR: Not looters, these were- these were the- the violent rioters who were- dominated Lafayette Park.
BRENNAN: But what I’m asking about–
BARR: They broke into the Treasury Department,–
BRENNAN: –on Monday when it was a peaceful protest.
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,–
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.
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–
BRENNAN: On Monday, you’re saying there were projectiles–
BARR: On Monday, yes there were.
BRENNAN: As I’m saying, three of my colleagues were there.
BRENNAN: They did not see projectiles being thrown–
BARR: I was there.
BRENNAN: –when that happened.
BARR: I was there. They were thrown. I saw them thrown.
BRENNAN: And you believe that what the police did using tear gas and projectiles was appropriate?
BARR: Here’s- here’s what the media is missing. This was not an operation to respond to that particular crowd. It was an operation to move the perimeter one block.
BRENNAN: And the methods they used you think were appropriate, is that what you’re saying?
BARR: When they met resistance, yes. They announced three times. They didn’t move. By the way, there was no tear gas used. The tear gas was used Sunday when they had to clear H Street to allow the fire department to come in to save St. John’s Church. That’s when tear gas was used.
BRENNAN: There were chemical irritants the park police has said–
BARR: No, there were not chemical irritants. Pepper spray is not a chemical irritant.
It’s not chemical.
BRENNAN: Pepper spray, you’re saying is what was used–
BARR: Pepper balls. Pepper balls.
BRENNAN: Right, and you believe that was appropriate. What I want to show you is what a lot of people at home who were watching this on television saw and their perception of events. So while the president says that he appreciates peaceful protest, around the same time, this crowd–
BARR: Well, six minutes- six minutes difference–
BRENNAN: Right, around same time the area is being cleared of what appear to be peaceful protesters using some force. And after the speech is finished, the president walks out of the White House to the same area where the protesters had been and stands for photo op in front of the church where the protesters had been. These events look very connected to people at home. In an environment where the broader debate is about heavy handed use of force in law enforcement, was that the right message for Americans to be receiving?
BARR: Well, the message is sometimes communicated by the media. I didn’t see any video being played on the media of what was happening Friday, Saturday and Sunday–
BRENNAN: But- but this confluence of events–
BARR: All I heard- all I heard was comments about how peaceful protesters were. I didn’t hear about the fact that there were 150 law enforcement officers injured and many taken to the hospital with concussions. So it wasn’t a peaceful protest. We had to get control over Lafayette Park, and we had to do it as soon as we were able to do that.
BRENNAN: But you understand how these events appear connected? The timing of this–
BARR: Well, it’s the job of the media to tell the truth. They were not connected.
BRENNAN: Well this is what I’m asking you. Did you know when you gave the green light for these actions to be taken that the president was going to be going to that very same area for a photo op?
BARR: I gave the green light at two o’clock. Obviously, I didn’t know that the president was going to be speaking later that day.
BRENNAN: You had no idea?
BARR: No. No, I did not.
BRENNAN: Do you see–
BARR: The go ahead was given at two o’clock. And to do it as soon as we were able to do it, to move the perimeter from- from H Street to I Street.
BRENNAN: We’re both Catholic. I know you’re observant. You’re a devout Catholic. Archbishop Gregory of Washington condemned what happened by gassing peaceful protesters.
BARR: There- there was no gas.
BRENNAN: Is- is doing- is what we saw there doing what you meant when you were on that call with governors and you said to dominate the streets? Is that what law enforcement is supposed to be taking away from this?
BARR: No, on the contrary. My point to the governors and what I was saying was that it’s important when you’re dealing with civil disturbances to have adequate forces at hand and out and about so you can control events and not be controlled by events. And that it’s more dangerous for everybody if you have these wild melees with thinly-manned police lines running after protesters with batons and that and that it’s important that adequate forces on the street. And so we’re encouraging them where they were stretched thin to call out National Guard, if necessary, to restore order. That’s what I was talking about. I would say that- that this particular- police have to move protesters, sometimes peaceful demonstrators, for a short distance in order to accomplish public safety. And that’s what was done here.
BRENNAN: So there was nothing that you think should have been done differently in hindsight?
BARR: Well, you know, I- I haven’t studied the- the events retrospectively in detail, but I think in general, you had the qualified law enforcement officials with shields warning and moving a line slowly. They had mounted officers moving slowly, directing people to move. And most people complied.
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