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Barr involved in decision to expand perimeter around White House and remove protesters

DC bishop on the president's church visit
Washington's Episcopal bishop on being "outraged" at President Trump's church appearance 04:51

Washington— Attorney General William Barr was part of the decision to expand the perimeter around the White House Monday, CBS News has confirmed, pushing protesters who were assembled there from the area before President Trump delivered remarks and walked across the street to survey a damaged historic church.

A Justice Department official told CBS News the decision was made late Sunday or early Monday morning to move the perimeter keeping protesters from getting close to the White House back one block. The official said it was a coordinated decision, and Barr advised it was the correct move.

The Washington Post first reported Barr's involvement in extending the perimeter.

Demonstrators had assembled in Lafayette Park, located in front of the White House, for a fourth day of protests against the death of George Floyd, 46, and police brutality. While the demonstrations were described as peaceful, tensions escalated when law enforcement deployed tear gas and forcefully pushed protesters from the area.

The events occurred as Mr. Trump delivered remarks in the Rose Garden at the White House, after which he left the compound to make his way through Lafayette Park to visit St. John's Church, whose parish office basement was set on fire after nightfall Sunday.

Accompanied by Barr and other Cabinet members, as well as White House aides and Secret Service Monday evening, Mr. Trump stood for photos outside St. John's and held up a Bible.

The Justice Department official said the president's movement's did not have any bearing on the decision to extend the perimeter around the White House. Barr went to observe the scene at Lafayette Park after visiting a command center Monday afternoon and was surprised to see it hadn't been moved as intended. The official said Barr then met with police to discuss moving the perimeter. Afterward, officers began pushing protesters from the park.

According to the Justice Department official, the attorney general had a bottle thrown at him while visiting the park outside of the White House, and Barr was informed that demonstrators gathered rocks to throw in his direction. CBS could not independently verify whether protesters threw items at Barr.

After the events in Lafayette Park earlier Monday evening, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Mr. Trump "directed Attorney General Barr to lead federal law enforcement efforts to assist in the restoration of order to the District of Columbia."

President Trump walks between lines of riot police in Washington, D.C.
President Donald Trump pumps his fist toward police as he walks between lines of riot police in Lafayette Park across from the White House while walking to St John's Church for a photo opportunity during ongoing protests over racial inequality in the wake of the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody, at the White House in Washington, D.C., on June 1, 2020. Tom Brenner / Reuters

The White House has been criticized for using aggressive tactics to disperse protesters, clearing the area for Mr. Trump to walk from the White House to St. John's, known as the "Church of the Presidents." During his comments in the Rose Garden, Mr. Trump declared himself "your president of law and order and an ally of all peaceful protesters."

Some Democrats criticized the president's remarks, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who said Mr. Trump's "continued fanning of the flames of discord, bigotry and violence is cowardly, weak and dangerous." 

Amid the unrest that has erupted in major U.S. cities in response to Floyd's death last week, the Justice Department has ramped up its law enforcement presence. Barr directed the Bureau of Prisons to dispatch riot teams to Miami and Washington, a senior Justice Department official said Monday, and U.S. Marshals and Drug Enforcement Administration agents were deployed to help the National Guard on Sunday during protests at the White House.

Barr said Tuesday that "there will be even greater law enforcement resources and support" in the Washington, D.C., region Tuesday.

"The most basic function of government is to provide security for people to live their lives and exercise their rights, and we will meet that responsibility here in the nation's capital," he said in a statement.

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