Barr Says Trump Asked Him to Oversee D.C. Protest Response


(Bloomberg) -- Attorney General William Barr said President Donald Trump had asked him to oversee the federal response to increasingly violent protests in Washington after a weekend of disturbances that included the burning of federal and religious buildings.

“This is the federal city. It’s the seat of the federal government,” Barr said at a news conference in Washington on Thursday. “It is the responsibility of the federal government to render that protection.”

Barr said that the widely criticized clearing of a plaza across from the White House on Monday was meant to be done earlier in the day after he decided that the security perimeter needed to be expanded. But, Barr said, the needed personnel weren’t in position to carry out the move before protesters arrived.

The clearing of the plaza with smoke cannisters and pepper balls was followed by Trump’s march across the plaza for a photo opportunity of him holding a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had been damaged by fire the previous night.

Barr said he approved expanding the perimeter before Trump decided on his church visit, which also has drawn wide criticism. Barr said he didn’t view Trump’s visit as “political act” because a president “should be able to walk outside the White House and walk across the street to the church of presidents.”

‘Witches’ Brew’

The top U.S. law enforcement officer also said there has been a “witches’ brew” of radical groups fueling violence amid otherwise peaceful protests following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Barr said the Justice Department is receiving intelligence daily on efforts to turn protests violent and is deploying resources to get ahead of those threats.

“Those committed to violence basically shield themselves by going among” peaceful protesters, Barr added.

Barr vowed that justice will be served in the killing of Floyd, and said that the case highlighted why many people -- particularly African-Americans -- lack confidence in the U.S. justice system.

“Our free society depends on the rule of law,” Barr said at a news conference in Washington on Thursday. “When the rule of law breaks down the promise of America does also.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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