Barr, Park Police distance Trump from clearing of protesters

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FILE - In this Monday, June 1, 2020, file photo police clear the area around Lafayette Park and the White House in Washington, as demonstrators gather to protest the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers last month. The violent clearing of demonstrators from the nation's premier protest space in front of the White House is spotlighting a tiny federal watch force created by George Washington. Democratic lawmakers want answers about the clubbing, punching and other force deployed by some Park Police in routing protesters from the front of the White House on Monday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

The head of U.S. Park Police insisted Tuesday that the forceful routing of protesters from the square in front of the White House last month had “zero correlation” with President Donald Trump's staged photo event minutes later. But he was unable to point to any immediate threat that justified his officers' sudden, violent drive against the hundreds gathered there.

Gregory T. Monahan's testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee was his first extended accounting of the Park Police's offensive against protesters and journalists June 1 in Lafayette Square.

Attorney General William Barr, testifying separately on Trump’s deployment of hundreds of federal officers and agents against nationwide protests this spring and summer, also distanced Trump’s photo event from the decision to drive demonstrators from Lafayette Square that night. “This was something conceived of long before and didn’t turn on the nature of the crowd,” Barr said.

But appearing at the same hearing as Monahan, Maj. Adam DeMarco of the Army National Guard told lawmakers of his surprise when Park Police officers suddenly and rapidly mobilized to drive the hundreds of then-peaceful demonstrators from the square, clubbing people with their shields and batons and unleashing chemical irritants.

It appeared “an unnecessary escalation of the use of force," DeMarco said. He said it ran counter to his training on military guidelines on the use of force against civilians and his experience with managing crowds as a combat veteran in Iraq.

The June 1 demonstrations outside the White House came at the height of this year’s nationwide protests over the killing of Black people at the hands of police, and has been a flashpoint in growing debate over Trump’s ongoing use of heavily militarized federal forces against the street protests. Hundreds of federal agency employees are now mobilized against a mix of peaceful and unruly protesters in Portland, Oregon.

Democrats charged that the action at Lafayette Square, long one of the nation’s most prominent venues for demonstrations, was a “test run” for the ongoing deployment of uniformed federal agency forces against protesters nationally.

DeMarco disputed Monahan's testimony that Park Police warned the crowd in advance over special sound equipment audible for hundreds of feet. He said the only notice to the milling crowds came in garbled words over an officer's hand-held megaphone that he could barely hear standing about 20 yards (18 meters) away. “I could just make out every other word," he said.