The inspector general of the Interior Department is launching an investigation into law enforcement attacks on protesters outside the White House early this month before President Donald Trump walked to a nearby church to hold up a Bible for a photo-op.
The Office of the Inspector General “confirmed that it is investigating the Trump administration’s excessive use of force” against the protesters, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said in a statement Monday. Wyden was one of three lawmakers who demanded the probe in a letter.
The department is in charge of U.S. Park Police, who were among members of law enforcement seen on video striking protesters with shields and batons, and firing tear gas. The protesters appeared in several cellphone and media videos to be gathered peacefully to demonstrate against racism before they were charged by police.
Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt said Monday that his team has begun to gather information.
“Given the significance of the events, we have already begun collecting and reviewing information concerning the Park Police’s activities,” Greenblatt told the Democratic lawmakers, The Associated Press reported.
Greenblatt noted that the first order of business would be to determine who was in charge of law enforcement the night of the June 1 clash. The Secret Service, county and military police, and members of the National Guard were all on the scene, in addition to the Park Police. That “adds complex and jurisdictional challenges” to the investigation, Greenblatt said.
Attorney General William Barr, who walked alongside Trump as the president crossed the street at Lafayette Square to stand outside St. John’s Episcopal Church for his photo-op, said he gave the order to clear out protesters. He insisted protesters were “not peaceful” — though that’s contradicted by the videos as well as by witnesses.
A police attack on an Australian television news crew covering the protest was so severe that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanded an investigation in a complaint to the U.S. Embassy.
Both the Secret Service and the Park Police admitted using pepper spray on protesters after initially denying that they did. Both organizations avoided the phrase “tear gas.” But pepper spray — which stings the eyes and causes coughing and choking — is considered a “riot control agent,” which is also “referred to as tear gas,” states the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Black Lives Matter have sued the Trump administration for what they labeled an “unconstitutional” and “criminal attack” that evening.
“The First Amendment rights to free speech, peaceful assembly, and free press are the building blocks of all other rights. Any actions by the Park Police to muzzle these rights is an affront to all Americans and should be swiftly addressed,” said the letter to Greenblatt from Wyden. The letter was also signed by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.).