New York Daily News

Don cleared over church photo op

- BY DAVE GOLDINER

The police decision to clear thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters from in front of the White House was not influenced by former President Donald Trump’s decision to hold a photo op at a church across the street, a government watchdog report said Wednesday.

The report issued by the Interior Department’s inspector general asserted that U.S. Park Police had already put in motion a plan to clear the protesters before they knew of Trump’s trip to St. John’s Episcopal Church on June 1, 2020.

“The evidence did not support a finding that [police] cleared the park ... so that then-President Trump could enter the park,” said Inspector General Mark Greenblatt, a veteran government watchdog official.

Trump quickly praised the report, which he said cleared him of any wrongdoing.

“Thank you ... for Completely and Totally exoneratin­g me in the clearing of Lafayette Park!” the ex-president wrote in an emailed statement

The report claimed that the Park Police wanted to oust the protesters to install new protective fencing in Lafayette Park.

Trump critics suspected he ordered the action to allow his photo op. They also accused him of misusing military and other government resources for the event, regardless of who decided to clear the protests.

Police and National Guard troopsused pepper spray and tear gas to violently force the demonstrat­ors away from the area as they protested the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapoli­s.

Minutes after the protesters were removed, Trump strode from the White House across the park to the church. Flanked by aides and military leaders, the former president held up a Bible and vowed to bring calm to American cities.

The photo op was designed to project strength amid the protests, which were spreading across the nation. But it largely backfired on Trump, who endured a firestorm of criticism.

The report says the decision to clear the protesters was justified, but that law enforcemen­t agencies on the scene failed to effectivel­y communicat­e with one another and to the protesters about the impending crackdown.

“Weaknesses in communicat­ion and coordinati­on may have contribute­d to confusion during the operation,” the report said.

The report comes a day after a bipartisan Senate report blamed the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol on shocking failures at all levels of government and law enforcemen­t.

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