U.S. attorney general asked for protesters to be pushed back: Washington Post

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General William Barr awaits the arrival of President Donald Trump to addresses the coronavirus response daily briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr personally asked for protesters to be pushed back from Washington’s Lafayette Square on Monday just before President Donald Trump spoke from the White House Rose Garden, the Washington Post reported, citing an unnamed Justice Department official.

Following his brief speech on Monday, Trump walked out of the White House, with a heavy security detail, across Lafayette Square to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where he stopped in front of boarded-up windows and held up a Bible for cameras before walking back to the White House. Barr and other top aides joined Trump on the walk to the church, which had been damaged by fire amid protests Sunday night.

The Washington Post reported that Barr made the request about pushing back protesters from the square after finding a previous decision to widen the security perimeter around the White House had not been acted upon.

As Trump spoke in the Rose Garden, authorities dispersed a peaceful protest with tear gas and rubber bullets blocks away, witnesses told Reuters on Monday.

The decision to expand the perimeter was made late Sunday or early Monday, two federal law enforcement officials told the Post. When Barr arrived at the park across from the White House on Monday afternoon, he saw it had not been done and told police to act, the Justice Department official told the newspaper.

A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The park was cleared on a day of upheaval as protests gathered force across the country over the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American who died after a white police officer pinned his neck under a knee for nearly nine minutes in Minneapolis on May 25.

Trump has condemned the killing.

Reporting by Tim Ahmann and Diane Bartz; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Leslie Adler