Transcript: Attorney General William Barr on "Face the Nation," June 7, 2020

Full Interview: AG Barr on "Face the Nation"
Full Interview: AG Barr on "Face the Nation" 24:21

The following is a transcript of an interview with Attorney General William Barr that aired Sunday, June 7, 2020, on "Face the Nation."


MARGARET BRENNAN: A senior administration official told our CBS' David Martin, that in a meeting at the White House on Monday morning, the president demanded that 10,000 active duty troops be ordered into American streets. Is that accurate?

BARR: No, that's completely false. That's completely false. Sunday night,--

MARGARET BRENNAN: The president did not demand that?

BARR: No, he did not demand that. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: What happened? 

BARR: I came over on- on Monday morning for a meeting. The night before had been the most violent, as one of the police officials told us, the D.C. police, it was the most violent day in Washington in 30 years, something that the media has not done a very good job of covering. And there had been a riot right along Lafayette Park. I was called over and asked if I would coordinate federal civil agencies and that the Defense Department would provide whatever support I needed or we needed to protect federal property at the White House, federal personnel. The decision was made to have at the ready and on hand in the vicinity some regular troops. But everyone agreed that the use of regular troops was a last resort and that as long as matters can be controlled with other resources, they should be. I felt, and the Secretary of Defense felt, we had adequate resources and wouldn't need to use federal troops. But in case we did, we wanted them nearby.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So what--

BARR: There was never- the president never asked or suggested that we needed to deploy regular troops at that point. It's been done from time to time in our history. We try to avoid it. And I'm happy that we were able to avoid it on this occasion.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So there were active duty troops put on standby. They were not deployed. The 82nd Airborne was put on standby,--

BARR: So the--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --but not sent into the streets.

BARR: Some 82nd Airborne military police were brought into the area. But they were not brought into D.C.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. So what part- I just want to make sure that we're precise here, what part of that conversation, as it's been relayed to CBS and to other news organizations, is false? Did the president not demand active duty troops? Did--

BARR: Well, your question to me just a moment ago was did he demand them on the streets, did he demand them in D.C.. No, we had them on standby in case they were needed. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. Which they were put on standby. They were not deployed. 

BARR: Right. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So in our reporting, we were also told that you, the Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and General Milley, all opposed the idea of actually deploying these active duty troops onto the streets. Is that accurate?

BARR: I think our position was common, which was that they should only be deployed if- as a last resort and that we didn't think we would need them. Every- I think everyone was on the same page.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think that the president has the authority to unilaterally send in active duty troops if the governors oppose it?

BARR: Oh, absolutely. The- under the anti- Insurrection Act, the- the president can use regular troops to suppress rioting. The Confederate- the Confederacy in our country opposed the use of federal troops to restore order and suppress an insurrection. So the federal government sometimes doesn't listen to governors in certain circumstances.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The last time that this has happened was the L.A. riots in 1992 when the governor of California asked for active duty troops.

BARR: That's correct. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're saying your understanding and the law, as you interpret it and would support is that the president has the ability to put active duty troops on American streets, even if governors object?

BARR: It's happened numerous times. And the answer to that is yes. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You would support that?

BARR: Well, it depends on the circumstances. I was involved in the L.A. riots and the Rodney King matter. We tried to use non-military forces. I sent 2,000 federal law enforcement officers out there in one day, but it was overwhelming. (00:04:34) And the National Guard couldn't handle it. And Governor Pete Wilson asked for federal troops. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And he asked for them.

BARR: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's a key distinction.

BARR: Or he approved the use of federal troops, but those troops were on standby as well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because I think a number of people would be surprised to hear and it's been reported that you opposed sending in active duty troops on principle. You're saying you would support it?

BARR: As a last resort.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So in this Monday meeting with the president, when the Defense Secretary, who has now publicly said that he opposed using the Insurrection Act, you said what to the president?

BARR: I don't think the Secretary of Defense said he opposed it. I think he said that it was a last resort and he didn't think it was necessary. I think we all agree that it's a last resort, but it's ultimately the president's decision. The- the reporting is completely false on this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you believe there is systemic racism in law enforcement?

BARR: I think there's racism in the United States still but I don't think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist. I understand the- the distrust, however, of the African-American community given the history in this country. I think we have to recognize that for most of our history, our institutions were explicitly racist. Since the 1960s, I think we've been in a phase of reforming our institutions and making sure that they're in sync with our laws and aren't fighting a rearguard action to impose inequities. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you think that's working? 

BARR: I think- I think the reform is a difficult task, but I think it is working and progress has been made. I think one of the best examples is the military. The military used to be explicitly racist institution. And now I think it's in the van m guard of- of bringing the races together and providing equal opportunity. I think law enforcement has been going through the same process. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think there should be some tweaking of the rules, reduced immunity to go after some of the bad cops?

BARR: I don't think you need to reduce immunity to- to go after the bad cops, because that would result certainly in police pulling back. It's, you know, policing is the toughest job in the country. And I- and I frankly think that we have generally the vast, overwhelming majority of police are good people. They're civic minded people who believe in serving the public. They do so bravely. They do so righteously. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the bad cops.

BARR: I- I think that there are instances of bad cops. And I think we have to be careful about automatically assuming that the actions of an individual necessarily mean that their organization is rotten. All organizations have people who engage in misconduct, and you sometimes have to be careful as for when you ascribe that to the whole organization and when it really is some errant member who isn't following the rules.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But doesn't the opening the pattern-or-practice investigation into a place like Minneapolis where there are questions about the broader issues with policing, it wasn't just the one officer, wouldn't that answer that question?

BARR: Well, that's exactly the reaction that I think has been a problem in the past, which is it just, again, just reacting to this incident by immediately putting the department under investigation doesn't necessarily result in- in improving the situation. But I would say that in the first instance, the governor has announced an investigation of the police department. The governor, Governor Walz, a Democratic governor, is investigating the police department. The attorney general of- of Minnesota is looking into the police department. We stand ready to act if we think it's necessary. But I don't think necessarily starting a- a pattern-or-practice investigation at this stage is warranted. Another thing is we have to look at some of the evidence. I mean, people, you know, the fact is that the criminal justice system at both the state and the federal level moved instantaneously on this. And we moved quickly with our investigation. But we still have to look into what kinds of use of force policies are used in that department, what the training has been and things like that. That's not something we can do overnight.

*END OF PART ONE*

+++

*BEGINNING OF PART TWO*

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about some of the events of the week. On Monday, Lafayette Park was cleared of protesters. You've spoken about this. The federal agents who were there report up to you. Did you think it was appropriate for them to use smoke bombs, tear gas, pepper balls, projectiles at what appeared to be peaceful protesters?

BARR: They were not peaceful protesters. And that's one of the big lies that the- the media is- seems to be perpetuating at this point.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Three of my CBS colleagues were there. We talked to them. 

BARR: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: They did not hear warnings. They did not see protesters--

BARR: There were three warnings.

MARGARET BRENNAN:--throwing anything.

BARR: There were three warnings given. But let's get back to why we took that action. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, OK, there were violent riots in- at Lafayette Park where the park police were under constant attack at the- behind their bike rack fences. On Sunday, things reached a crescendo. The officers were pummeled with bricks. Crowbars were used to pry up the pavers at the park and they were hurled at police. There were fires set in not only St. John's Church, but a historic building at Lafayette was burned down. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: These were things that looters did.

BARR: Not looters, these were- these were the- the violent rioters who were- dominated Lafayette Park.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But what I'm asking about--

BARR: They broke into the Treasury Department,--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --on Monday when it was a peaceful protest.

BARR: I'm going to- let me get to this, because this has been totally obscured by the media. They broke into the Treasury Department, and they were injuring police. That night,--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sunday night?

BARR: Sunday night, the park police prepared a plan to clear H Street and put a- a larger perimeter around the White House so they could build a more permanent fence on Lafayette. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is something you approved on Sunday night?

BARR: No. The park police on their own on- on Sunday night determined this was the proper approach. When I came in Monday, it was clear to me that we did have to increase the perimeter on that side of Lafayette Park and push it out one block. That decision was made by me in the morning. It was communicated to all the police agencies, including the Metropolitan Police at 2:00 p.m. that day. The effort was to move the perimeter one block, and it had to be done when we had enough people in place to achieve that. And that decision, as I say, was communicated to the police at 2:00 p.m.. The operation was run by the park police. The park police was facing what they considered to be a very rowdy and non-compliant crowd. And there were projectiles being hurled at the police. And at that point, it was not to respond--

MARGARET BRENNAN: On Monday, you're saying there were projectiles--

BARR: On Monday, yes there were.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: As I'm saying, three of my colleagues were there. 

BARR: Yeah. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: They did not see projectiles being thrown--

BARR: I was there.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --when that happened. 

BARR: I was there. They were thrown. I saw them thrown.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you believe that what the police did using tear gas and projectiles was appropriate?

BARR: Here's- here's what the media is missing. This was not an operation to respond to that particular crowd. It was an operation to move the perimeter one block.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the methods they used you think were appropriate, is that what you're saying?  

BARR: When they met resistance, yes. They announced three times. They didn't move. By the way, there was no tear gas used. The tear gas was used Sunday when they had to clear H Street to allow the fire department to come in to save St. John's Church. That's when tear gas was used. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: There were chemical irritants the park police has said--

BARR: No, there were not chemical irritants. Pepper spray is not a chemical irritant. 

It's not chemical. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Pepper spray, you're saying is what was used--

BARR: Pepper balls. Pepper balls. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, and you believe that was appropriate. What I want to show you is what a lot of people at home who were watching this on television saw and their perception of events. So while the president says that he appreciates peaceful protest, around the same time, this crowd--

BARR: Well, six minutes- six minutes difference-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, around same time the area is being cleared of what appear to be peaceful protesters using some force. And after the speech is finished, the president walks out of the White House to the same area where the protesters had been and stands for photo op in front of the church where the protesters had been. These events look very connected to people at home. In an environment where the broader debate is about heavy handed use of force in law enforcement, was that the right message for Americans to be receiving?

BARR: Well, the message is sometimes communicated by the media. I didn't see any video being played on the media of what was happening Friday, Saturday and Sunday--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But- but this confluence of events--

BARR: All I heard- all I heard was comments about how peaceful protesters were. I didn't hear about the fact that there were 150 law enforcement officers injured and many taken to the hospital with concussions. So it wasn't a peaceful protest. We had to get control over Lafayette Park, and we had to do it as soon as we were able to do that. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you understand how these events appear connected? The timing of this--

BARR: Well, it's the job of the media to tell the truth. They were not connected.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well this is what I'm asking you. Did you know when you gave the green light for these actions to be taken that the president was going to be going to that very same area for a photo op?

BARR: I gave the green light at two o'clock. Obviously, I didn't know that the president was going to be speaking later that day. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You had no idea? 

BARR: No. No, I did not. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you see--

BARR: The go ahead was given at two o'clock. And to do it as soon as we were able to do it, to move the perimeter from- from H Street to I Street.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're both Catholic. I know you're observant. You're a devout Catholic. Archbishop Gregory of Washington condemned what happened by gassing peaceful protesters.

BARR: There- there was no gas.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is- is doing- is what we saw there doing what you meant when you were on that call with governors and you said to dominate the streets? Is that what law enforcement is supposed to be taking away from this?

BARR: No, on the contrary. My point to the governors and what I was saying was that it's important when you're dealing with civil disturbances to have adequate forces at hand and out and about so you can control events and not be controlled by events. And that it's more dangerous for everybody if you have these wild melees with thinly-manned police lines running after protesters with batons and that and that it's important that adequate forces on the street. And so we're encouraging them where they were stretched thin to call out National Guard, if necessary, to restore order. That's what I was talking about. I would say that- that this particular- police have to move protesters, sometimes peaceful demonstrators, for a short distance in order to accomplish public safety. And that's what was done here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So there was nothing that you think should have been done differently in hindsight?

BARR: Well, you know, I- I haven't studied the- the events retrospectively in detail, but I think in general, you had the qualified law enforcement officials with shields warning and moving a line slowly. They had mounted officers moving slowly, directing people to move. And most people complied.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Mr. Attorney General, we have more questions for you, but I'm told we're out of time. 

BARR: Thank you.


Below is a complete transcript of Margaret Brennan's conversation with Attorney General William Barr

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. Attorney General, if you're ready, we'll dive in. Thank you for making time for us.

ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR: Good to be here. Thank you, Margaret. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: A senior administration official told our CBS' David Martin, that in a meeting at the White House on Monday morning, the president demanded that 10,000 active duty troops be ordered into American streets. Is that accurate?

BARR: No, that's completely false. That's completely false. Sunday night,--

MARGARET BRENNAN: The president did not demand that?

BARR: No, he did not demand that. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: What happened? 

BARR: I came over on- on Monday morning for a meeting. The night before had been the most violent, as one of the police officials told us, the D.C. police, it was the most violent day in Washington in 30 years, something that the media has not done a very good job of covering. And there had been a riot right along Lafayette Park. I was called over and asked if I would coordinate federal civil agencies and that the Defense Department would provide whatever support I needed or we needed to protect federal property at the White House, federal personnel. The decision was made to have at the ready and on hand in the vicinity some regular troops. But everyone agreed that the use of regular troops was a last resort and that as long as matters can be controlled with other resources, they should be. I felt, and the Secretary of Defense felt, we had adequate resources and wouldn't need to use federal troops. But in case we did, we wanted them nearby.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So what--

BARR: There was never- the president never asked or suggested that we needed to deploy regular troops at that point. It's been done from time to time in our history. We try to avoid it. And I'm happy that we were able to avoid it on this occasion.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So there were active duty troops put on standby. They were not deployed. The 82nd Airborne was put on standby,--

BARR: So the--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --but not sent into the streets.

BARR: Some 82nd Airborne military police were brought into the area. But they were not brought into D.C.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. So what part- I just want to make sure that we're precise here, what part of that conversation, as it's been relayed to CBS and to other news organizations, is false? Did the president not demand active duty troops? Did--

BARR: Well, your question to me just a moment ago was did he demand them on the streets, did he demand them in D.C.. No, we had them on standby in case they were needed. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. Which they were put on standby. They were not deployed. 

BARR: Right. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So in our reporting, we were also told that you, the Defense Secretary Mark Esper, and General Milley, all opposed the idea of actually deploying these active duty troops onto the streets. Is that accurate?

BARR: I think our position was common, which was that they should only be deployed if- as a last resort and that we didn't think we would need them. Every- I think everyone was on the same page.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think that the president has the authority to unilaterally send in active duty troops if the governors oppose it?

BARR: Oh, absolutely. The- under the anti- Insurrection Act, the- the president can use regular troops to suppress rioting. The Confederate- the Confederacy in our country opposed the use of federal troops to restore order and suppress an insurrection. So the federal government sometimes doesn't listen to governors in certain circumstances.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The last time that this has happened was the L.A. riots in 1992 when the governor of California asked for active duty troops.

BARR: That's correct. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're saying your understanding and the law, as you interpret it and would support is that the president has the ability to put active duty troops on American streets, even if governors object?

BARR: It's happened numerous times. And the answer to that is yes. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You would support that?

BARR: Well, it depends on the circumstances. I was involved in the L.A. riots and the Rodney King matter. We tried to use non-military forces. I sent 2,000 federal law enforcement officers out there in one day, but it was overwhelming. And the National Guard couldn't handle it. And Governor Pete Wilson asked for federal troops. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And he asked for them.

BARR: Yes.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's a key distinction.

BARR: Or he approved the use of federal troops, but those troops were on standby as well.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because I think a number of people would be surprised to hear and it's been reported that you opposed sending in active duty troops on principle. You're saying you would support it?

BARR: As a last resort.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What is the last resort?

BARR: To restore law and order in- in a situation that is out of control and where life and property is endangered. And that's been done since the earliest days of the republic. General Washington, the president who led the army into the field to suppress rebellion and insurrection in Pennsylvania in the very first term of his administration. So it's been done periodically. When I was AG last time, we did it twice. We did it in the Virgin Islands. The governor opposed us at that point, but there was a complete breakdown of law and order. Lives were in danger, and we sent in 82nd Airborne military police, along with U.S. marshals and FBI agents, and then subsequently we did it in California. I would also point out it was done during the civil rights era in places like Selma, Alabama, and other places to integrate schools. The governors stood in the doorway. The governors did not approve the use of federal troops to enforce civil rights in the South.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So in this Monday meeting with the president, when the Defense Secretary, who has now publicly said that he opposed using the Insurrection Act, you said what to the president?

BARR: I don't think the Secretary of Defense said he opposed it. I think he said that it was a last resort and he didn't think it was necessary. I think we all agree that it's a last resort, but it's ultimately the president's decision. The- the reporting is completely false on this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you believe there is systemic racism in law enforcement?

BARR: I think there's racism in the United States still but I don't think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist. I understand the- the distrust, however, of the African-American community given the history in this country. I think we have to recognize that for most of our history, our institutions were explicitly racist. They denied equal rights to African-Americans--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Where are they now?

BARR: --first under slavery, then under Jim Crow. I think since the- the abolition of Jim Crow laws, which really didn't get struck down completely until the 1960s, I think since that time- and- and so as a result of that, you know, the civil rights movement was largely going, you know, battling these institutions that were imposing racism. Since the 1960s, I think we've been in a phase of reforming our institutions and making sure that they're in sync with our laws and aren't fighting a rearguard action to impose inequities. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you think that's working? 

BARR: I think- I think the reform is a difficult task, but I think it is working and progress has been made. I think one of the best examples is the military. The military used to be explicitly racist institution. And now I think it's in the vanguard of- of bringing the races together and providing equal opportunity. I think law enforcement has been going through the same process. And while it's a difficult process and while law enforcement is not monolithic in this country, we have 50 states on a lot of local jurisdictions. There's undeniable that progress is being made. We have a generation of police- police leaders in this country, many of whom are now African-American in our major cities, who are firmly committed to equal justice and to fair policing. And we've been working hard on this. And I would say, you know, the president, before any of this happened, was out in front on this issue. Not only did he enact the First Step Act to bring greater justice to the African-American community within the criminal justice system, but he set up the first commission on policing and the administration of the Justice since Lyndon Johnson to look at precisely these issues. And they have been working on these issues. And in the days and weeks ahead, we're going to be expanding those efforts and coming forward with concrete proposals.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I take your point that it- it's not a monolithic system, but the Justice Department is the backstop for a lot of these local governments. When it comes to the issue of biased policing, the Trump administration's Justice Department has only opened one pattern-or-practice investigation into law enforcement agencies. The past three administrations combined had almost 70. Why hasn't this issue been a bigger priority?

BARR: Well, people- if you're skeptical that progress has been made and you have to wonder what was the results of those 70 consent decrees and pattern and practice investigations. Either progress is being made or it isn't. And from our experience and greater academic research is showing this to be true, that- that you can actually get more focused change and more real change by working in more collaboration with the police. I saw that Mayor Emanuel, Rahm Emanuel, said, you know, recently that investigations should be done with police, not to police to have any real effect. And we've been doing that. We- we- we are working with police departments to address use of force policies, personnel policies, standards and practices. And we- and we feel that we can make good progress that way without the collateral effects that some of these consent decrees have. There's been a recent study that's been talked about from Harvard that indicates that some of these- the collateral consequences of these have been to- to make the police pull back and actually lead to more death, more murders, more crime. So we have to be prudent in how we approach this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you're saying you don't use this tool that you have because you don't think it's an effective one--

BARR: No, no it's--

MARGARET BRENNAN: --or because you think the problem is being solved on its own?

BARR: I'm just saying that just because we don't use that particular tool in every instance doesn't mean that we're not doing something about it. Actually, I think what's happened in the past is that politicians can check the box by slapping a consent decree on the department. We're not interested in gestures. We're interested in getting real results and working with police chiefs and- and- and public safety directors and mayors who really do want to change the system. But we've never taken this off the table. We- we- we have that power. We will use that power. We just say that, you know, you have to be selective in how you apply it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you think there should be some tweaking of the rules, reduced immunity to go after some of the bad cops?

BARR: I don't think you need to reduce immunity to- to go after the bad cops, because that would result certainly in police pulling back. It's, you know, policing is the toughest job in the country. And I- and I frankly think that we have generally the vast, overwhelming majority of police are good people. They're civic minded people who believe in serving the public. They do so bravely. They do so righteously. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But the bad cops.

BARR: I- I think that there are instances of bad cops. And I think we have to be careful about automatically assuming that the actions of an individual necessarily mean that their organization is rotten. All organizations have people who engage in misconduct, and you sometimes have to be careful as for when you ascribe that to the whole organization and when it really is some errant member who isn't following the rules.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But doesn't the opening the pattern-or-practice investigation into a place like Minneapolis where there are questions about the broader issues with policing, it wasn't just the one officer, wouldn't that answer that question?

BARR: Well, that's exactly the reaction that I think has been a problem in the past, which is it just, again, just reacting to this incident by immediately putting the department under investigation doesn't necessarily result in- in improving the situation. But I would say that in the first instance, the governor has announced an investigation of the police department. The governor, Governor Walz, a Democratic governor, is investigating the police department. The attorney general of- of Minnesota is looking into the police department. We stand ready to act if we think it's necessary. But I don't think necessarily starting a- a pattern-or-practice investigation at this stage is warranted. Another thing is we have to look at some of the evidence. I mean, people, you know, the fact is that the criminal justice system at both the state and the federal level moved instantaneously on this. And we moved quickly with our investigation. But we still have to look into what kinds of use of force policies are used in that department, what the training has been and things like that. That's not something we can do overnight.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you about some of the events of the week. On Monday, Lafayette Park was cleared of protesters. You've spoken about this. The federal agents who were there report up to you. Did you think it was appropriate for them to use smoke bombs, tear gas, pepper balls, projectiles at what appeared to be peaceful protesters?

BARR: They were not peaceful protesters. And that's one of the big lies that the- the media is- seems to be perpetuating at this point.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Three of my CBS colleagues were there. We talked to them. 

BARR: Yeah.

MARGARET BRENNAN: They did not hear warnings. They did not see protesters--

BARR: There were three warnings.

MARGARET BRENNAN:--throwing anything.

BARR: There were three warnings given. But let's get back to why we took that action. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, OK, there were violent riots in- at Lafayette Park where the park police were under constant attack at the- behind their bike rack fences. They were battling over the fences. They were trying to get entry. They were throwing bricks and inflammable liquid at the police. One fifth of the- there have been 750 officers hurt in the last week. One fifth of those have been in Washington, D.C.. Most of those have been federal officers at Lafayette Park. On Sunday, things reached a crescendo. The officers were pummeled with bricks. Crowbars were used to pry up the pavers at the park and they were hurled at police. There were fires set in not only St. John's Church, but a historic building at Lafayette was burned down. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: These were things that looters did.

BARR: Not looters, these were- these were the- the violent rioters who were- dominated Lafayette Park.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But what I'm asking about--

BARR: They broke into the Treasury Department,

MARGARET BRENNAN: --on Monday when it was a peaceful protest.

 BARR: I'm going to- let me get to this, because this has been totally obscured by the media. They broke into the Treasury Department, and they were injuring police. That night,--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sunday night?

BARR: Sunday night, the park police prepared a plan to clear H Street and put a- a larger perimeter around the White House so they could build a more permanent fence on Lafayette. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is something you approved on Sunday night?

BARR: No. The park police on their own on- on Sunday night determined this was the proper approach. When I came in Monday, it was clear to me that we did have to increase the perimeter on that side of Lafayette Park and push it out one block. That decision was made by me in the morning. It was communicated to all the police agencies, including the Metropolitan Police at 2:00 p.m. that day. The effort was to move the perimeter one block, and it had to be done when we had enough people in place to achieve that. And that decision, as I say, was communicated to the police at 2:00 p.m.. The operation was run by the park police. The park police was facing what they considered to be a very rowdy and non-compliant crowd. And there were projectiles being hurled at the police. And at that point, it was not to respond--

MARGARET BRENNAN: On Monday, you're saying there were projectiles--

BARR: On Monday, yes there were.  

MARGARET BRENNAN: As I'm saying, three of my colleagues were there. 

BARR: Yeah. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: They did not see projectiles being thrown--

BARR: I was there.

MARGARET BRENNAN: --when that happened. 

BARR: I was there. They were thrown. I saw them thrown.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And you believe that what the police did using tear gas and projectiles was appropriate?

BARR: Here's- here's what the media is missing. This was not an operation to respond to that particular crowd. It was an operation to move the perimeter one block.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And the methods they used you think were appropriate, is that what you're saying?  

BARR: When they met resistance, yes. They announced three times. They didn't move. By the way, there was no tear gas used. The tear gas was used Sunday when they had to clear H Street to allow the fire department to come in to save St. John's Church. That's when tear gas was used. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: There were chemical irritants the park police has said--

BARR: No, there were not chemical irritants. Pepper spray is not a chemical irritant.

It's not chemical. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Pepper spray, you're saying is what was used--

BARR: Pepper balls. Pepper balls. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, and you believe that was appropriate. I just I want to play this--

BARR: Well, first the- the attorney- yeah, well, I- I think as I understand it, the Park Police and the Secret Service, they were the ones who carried out the movement of the crowd back one block. And I think they used their standard crowd control protocols.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So if all- if all of that's true, why didn't this happen at another time of day? Why did it have to happen in the middle of the day, just moments before the president gives a press conference and then walks to the area where the protesters had been standing?

BARR: Well--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why not do it in the middle of the night when the crowd thins? Move the perimeter?

BARR: Well, in the middle- in the middle of the night, the night before, which was Sunday, the law enforcement contingent was spent. They had lost 60 officers. In fact, in order to make the movement the next day, they had to bring in Virginia police departments to supplement units that were there, we had to build up enough people to control the situation and move it out. We were trying to do it as quickly as possible. After two o'clock, I heard that there was a point at which there were 300 protesters and- and the line could be more easily moved. But we didn't have the- the trained crowd control people in place to do it. And officers have to sleep. So on Sunday, it was a period where we were bringing in the required elements to do this and to back it up and to make sure if things got out of hand, we had adequate people there to deal with it. So as soon as the elements were in place, it was done. It was- it was handled by the park police officers, the tactical commander, and as soon as they felt they could.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But what you're describing is just a confluence of events and coincidental timing. I wanted- what I want to show you is what a lot of people at home who were watching this on television saw and their perception of events. So if I can just- guys, I want to play a video here. I want you to see what the public at home saw.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

MARGARET BRENNAN: As you can see, this is around exactly the same time. So while the president says that he appreciates peaceful protest, around the same time, this crowd--

BARR: Well, six minutes- six minutes difference-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, around same time the area is being cleared of what appear to be peaceful protesters using some force. And after the speech is finished, the president walks out of the White House to the same area where the protesters had been and stands for photo op in front of the church where the protesters had been. These events look very connected to people at home.

BARR: Well,--

MARGARET BRENNAN: It is- in an environment--

BARR: Am I going to have to talk over--  

MARGARET BRENNAN: Cut the audio, please.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

MARGARET BRENNAN: In an environment where the broader debate is about heavy handed use of force in law enforcement, was that the right message for Americans to be receiving?

BARR: Well, the message is sometimes communicated by the media. I didn't see any video being played on the media of what was happening Friday, Saturday and Sunday--

MARGARET BRENNAN: But- but this confluence of events--

BARR: All I heard- all I heard was comments about how peaceful protesters were. I didn't hear about the fact that there were 150 law enforcement officers injured and many taken to the hospital with concussions. So it wasn't a peaceful protest. We had to get control over Lafayette Park, and we had to do it as soon as we were able to do that. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But you understand how these events appear connected? The timing of this--

BARR: Well, it's the job of the media to tell the truth. They were not connected.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well this is what I'm asking you. Did you know when you gave the green light for these actions to be taken that the president was going to be going to that very same area for a photo op?

BARR: I gave the green light at two o'clock. Obviously, I didn't know that the president was going to be speaking later that day. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You had no idea? 

BARR: No. No, I did not. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you see--

BARR: The go ahead was given at two o'clock. And to do it as soon as we were able to do it, to move the perimeter from- from H Street to I Street.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We're both Catholic. I know you're observant. You're a devout Catholic. Archbishop Gregory of Washington condemned what happened by gassing peaceful protesters.

BARR: There- there was no gas.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is- is doing- is what we saw there doing what you meant when you were on that call with governors and you said to dominate the streets? Is that what law enforcement is supposed to be taking away from this?

BARR: No, on the contrary. My point to the governors and what I was saying was that it's important when you're dealing with civil disturbances to have adequate forces at hand and out and about so you can control events and not be controlled by events. And that it's more dangerous for everybody if you have these wild melees with thinly-manned police lines running after protesters with batons and that and that it's important that adequate forces on the street. And so we're encouraging them where they were stretched thin to call out National Guard, if necessary, to restore order. That's what I was talking about. I would say that- that this particular- police have to move protesters, sometimes peaceful demonstrators, for a short distance in order to accomplish public safety. And that's what was done here.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So there was nothing that you think should have been done differently in hindsight?

BARR: Well, you know, I- I haven't studied the- the events retrospectively in detail, but I think in general, you had the qualified law enforcement officials with shields warning and moving a line slowly. They had mounted officers moving slowly, directing people to move. And most people complied. There was a small group that hung back and wrestled with the police officers trying to tear their shields from them. In one case, struggling to get one of the police officers guns and those people were subdued.

MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Mr. Attorney General, we have more questions for you, but I'm told we're out of time. 

BARR: Thank you.