House Democrats want answers from the Trump administration on what happened in front of the White House on Monday, when federal law enforcement officers violently advanced on peaceful protesters, just minutes before President Donald Trump held a photo-op outside St. John’s Church.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Trump on Thursday demanding to know which agencies have been deputized by Attorney General William Barr to police the protests.
“We are concerned about the increased militarization and lack of clarity that may increase chaos,” Pelosi wrote Trump. “I am writing to request a full list of the agencies involved and clarifications of the roles and responsibilities of the troops and federal law enforcement resources operating in the city. Congress and the American people need to know who is in charge, what is the chain of command, what is the mission, and by what authority is the National Guard from other states operating in the capital.”
Her letter comes the day after four Democratic House leaders ― Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (N.Y.), Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), Armed Services Committee Chair Adam Smith (Wash.) and Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (Miss.) ― demanded Trump administration officials provide Congress information about the incident in Lafayette Square, the park outside the White House.
“We want to be clear: the use of federal personnel to prevent American citizens from exercising their Constitutional right to peaceably assemble represents a direct threat to our democracy,” the Democratic lawmakers wrote in a letter addressed to Attorney General Bill Barr, U.S. Department of Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Roughly 30 minutes before Washington, D.C.’s 7 p.m. curfew on Monday, federal law enforcement officers in riot gear used tear gas, pepper spray, smoke canisters, stun grenades and rubber bullets to clear a crowd of peaceful protesters gathered in Lafayette Square.
House Democrats are inquiring who gave the orders to clear protesters, which agencies were present in the line of federal officers, and who was involved in the action.
Park Police and Trump have since denied using tear gas, despite reports from journalists and demonstrators on the ground. The officers were reportedly a mix of U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Park Police, directed by Barr to expand the police perimeter outside the White House. House Democrats have also asked when this interagency effort was established and under what authority.
Minutes after federal officers advanced on protesters, Trump, who at the time was delivering a speech at the Rose Garden declaring himself the “president of law and order,” walked through the cleared grounds to take pictures with a Bible outside St. John’s Church, which had been vandalized during the protests Sunday night.
“As America grapples with police brutality, systemic oppression, and racism, we must each do our part to defend the rights guaranteed to us under the Constitution,” the House Democratic leaders wrote in the letter. “The First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly are core to what it means to be an American. The protestors at Lafayette Square complied with the curfew set forth by local officials. They were exercising their rights under the First Amendment. They were assembled peacefully and posed no obvious threat.”
House Democrats, who have oversight authorities over these federal agencies, have put a June 10 deadline on their inquiries to Trump officials — though the administration has been known to ignore these requests in the past. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has also formally requested that the Department of Justice inspector general investigate Barr’s role in the incident.
“The role of Attorney General Barr in ordering this attack and then participating in an ugly political propaganda event with the President, and the potential roles of DOJ law enforcement personnel, raises troubling questions about how and why this attack against law-abiding citizens occurred,” Warren wrote in her request.
Here is the letter from House Democrats in full:
Dear Attorney General Barr, Secretary Esper, Secretary Bernhardt, and Acting Secretary Wolf:
On Monday, we watched in horror as federal officers, mounted on horseback and clad in riot gear, used tear gas, pepper spray, smoke cannisters, stun grenades, and rubber bullets to forcibly remove peaceful protestors from public space adjacent to the White House. We want to be clear: the use of federal personnel to prevent American citizens from exercising their Constitutional right to peaceably assemble represents a direct threat to our democracy.
The details of the scene are not in serious dispute. On June 1, 2020, Americans protesting police brutality and systemic racism were gathered north of the White House in Lafayette Square. As the President spoke from the Rose Garden—where he described himself as the “President of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters”— federal law enforcement personnel violently confronted the protestors. Officers in riot gear advanced on the protestors, using tear gas, pepper spray, smoke cannisters, stun grenades, and rubber bullets, to clear a path to neighboring St. John’s Church. Shortly after President Trump promised to dispatch “thousands and thousands of heavily armed soldiers, military personnel, and law enforcement officers” to cities across the country, he staged a photo op at the historic religious venue.
Although the nation’s capital was under a 7:00 pm curfew, the confrontation occurred at 6:31 pm. Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has since expressed her alarm and outrage at the events: “[We] were very shocked, and quite frankly outraged, that people who were not violating the curfew and who did not seem to have provoked attack were attacked and moved out by federal law enforcement officials to clear the way for the president.” She has made clear that the Metropolitan Police Department was not involved, as Lafayette Square falls under federal jurisdiction, and the actions were conducted by “federal police.” Although the Trump campaign and some federal law enforcement agencies later denied that tear gas and other crowd-clearing devices were used to disperse the protestors at Lafayette Square, video evidence and eyewitness accounts clearly paint a different picture.
Although no notice has been provided to Congress, we have seen reports that the President has directed an interagency effort, led by the Department of Justice, to coordinate the response to protestors in Washington, D.C. Attorney General Barr is reported to have given the order to clear the protestors from Lafayette Square.Elements from the United States Secret Service, the United States Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the United States Park Police were reported to have been present during the incident. Additional federal law enforcement personnel and the National Guard have also been deployed in the streets of Washington.
As America grapples with police brutality, systemic oppression, and racism, we must each do our part to defend the rights guaranteed to us under the Constitution. The First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly are core to what it means to be an American. The protestors at Lafayette Square complied with the curfew set forth by local officials. They were exercising their rights under the First Amendment. They were assembled peacefully and posed no obvious threat.
A wide range of federal law enforcement officials were identified at Lafayette Park on June 1, 2020 including personnel from component agencies under your authority. As the Chairmen of the committees of jurisdiction, we write to ask the following questions relating to the events at Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020:
- Who gave the order to clear protestors and under what authority?
- Which federal agencies had a physical presence at Lafayette Square?
- Which federal agencies were involved or tasked with removing protestors from Lafayette Park or securing the President’s path to St. John’s Church?
- What were the specific roles of the respective agencies and law enforcement units involved in clearing the protestors or securing the President’s path to St. John’s Church?
- What crowd dispersal measures were authorized for use by the agencies present?
- What crowd dispersal devices were authorized for use by the agencies present?
- When was the authorization to use force given to the respective agencies and under what authority? How were those orders communicated down the chain of command?
- Were the agencies present authorized or advised to use de-escalation tactics when removing the protestors? How was that information communicated down the chain of command?
- When was the interagency effort established and under what authority?
We request a full response to each of these questions as soon as possible, but no later than June 10, 2020. We also request you arrange a briefing with our respective staff.