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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blocked a resolution by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., on Tuesday to condemn President Trump for his visit to St. John’s Church after federal law enforcement officers in riot gear cleared protesters in Lafayette Square a day earlier.
“Congress condemns the President of the United States for ordering Federal officers to use gas and rubber bullets against the Americans who were peaceably protesting in Lafayette Square,” the resolution read.
But there have been differing accounts about who gave the order to disperse the protesters Monday — and why and how it was done.
Some vocal anti-Trump critics — such as Episcopal bishop Mariann Budde, who oversees a church near the White House that caught fire during a protest — claimed Trump himself “sanctioned” having the park cleared with tear gas so he could participate in a photo op at St. John’s Church.
But the U.S. Park Police went on the record Tuesday to deny that tear gas was used, while also saying “violent protestors” began throwing projectiles including “bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids” before officers dispersed the crowd.
A Justice Department (DOJ) official told Fox News on Tuesday that it was Attorney General William Barr who ordered law enforcement officials to extend the perimeter of Lafayette Square before Trump ventured outside the White House on Monday.
The order was executed Monday afternoon just minutes before the president gave a public address on the nationwide unrest following the death of George Floyd.
The act — which came shortly before a city curfew went into effect — has ignited outrage from critics who claim protesters were moved so the president could participate in a photo opportunity. A photo of Trump standing in front of the church holding a Bible in the air circulated shortly after.
But the senior Justice Department official told Fox News the decision was made early Monday morning after the Treasury Department and St. John’s Church — which are both in the area — were vandalized the night before.
Barr went to survey the scene on Monday afternoon, according to an official. But after arriving, he was upset to find out the perimeter had not been widened like it was supposed to be earlier in the day, the source said. Barr, who was surrounded by his security detail, toured the police line keeping the protestors at bay while demonstrators shouted at him. The night before, fires were started and buildings were vandalized in the area.
Someone threw a bottle at Barr when he was there, the official said. He gave the order to move people out before the president arrived. Shortly after, police mounted on horses used smoke to move protesters demonstrating against police brutality.
Other top Democrats have been angered by the move. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called it an “action worthy of censure.”
“I am horrified he attempted to put down peaceful protests with military force,” Hoyer said, calling it “the act of an authoritarian, unempathetic leader.”
Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin and Chad Pergram contributed to this report.