Attorney General William Barr is facing demands to step down after the Washington Post reported that the nation's top law enforcement official personally ordered police to beat back peaceful protesters gathered near the White House Monday evening to clear the path for President Donald Trump's walk to St. John's Episcopal Church, where he delivered a militant speech and staged a photo-op showing him holding a Bible.
Two anonymous federal law enforcement officials told the Post that "the decision had been made late Sunday or early Monday to extend the perimeter around Lafayette Square by one block." An unnamed Justice Department official said that Barr on Monday afternoon "went to survey the scene and found the perimeter had not been extended."
"The attorney general conferred with law enforcement officials on the ground, which the official said is captured in a video of the incident," the Post reported. "He conferred with them to check on the status and basically said: 'This needs to be done. Get it done,' the Justice Department official said."
National Guard soldiers and police proceeded to club peaceful protesters with batons and fire tear gas canisters and rubber bullets into crowds as Trump delivered a speech on the nationwide uprising sparked by the killing of George Floyd. The New York Times reported Tuesday that Barr "had strolled to the edge of the police line to observe the crowd in the minutes before the tear-gassing began."
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) was the first Democratic member of Congress to demand Barr's resignation in the wake of the Post's reporting, which was confirmed by ABC News.
"The Attorney General is the top law enforcement officer in the country, the leader of an agency meant to protect Americans' constitutional rights," Beyer tweeted. "Barr betrayed that mission by ordering the violent and systematic violation of peaceful protesters' rights. He should resign."
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), also called for Barr's resignation.
"AG Bill Barr's behavior has been deeply problematic since he was sworn in, but now it has become truly dangerous," CREW tweeted. "He needs to resign."In a statement released just ahead of the Post's report, Barr thanked the police and the National Guard for their "outstanding work" Monday night but did not mention his role in ordering the assault on demonstrators.
"I am particularly impressed by the citizen-soldiers of the D.C. National Guard, who are committed to serving their community, and did so with great effectiveness last night," Barr said. "There will be even greater law enforcement resources and support in the region tonight."
Before news of Barr's instructions to law enforcement broke, Senate Democrats unveiled a non-binding resolution (pdf) condemning Trump for "ordering federal officers to use gas and rubber bullets against the Americans who were peaceably protesting in Lafayette Square . . . thereby violating the constitutional rights of those peaceful protestors.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Democrats attempted to pass the resolution by unanimous consent, but Republicans blocked it.
"President Trump ordered federal officers to attack peaceful American citizens exercising their constitutional rights by tear gassing them in a public park while military helicopters flew overhead," Schumer tweeted. "Appalling. An abuse of presidential power. Blatantly unconstitutional."
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington told NPR's Morning Edition that she resented Trump using a church to promote an “inflammatory militarized approach to the wounds of our nation."
"He did not pray," she said. "He did not offer a word of balm or condolence to those who are grieving. He did not seek to unify the country, but rather he used our symbols and our sacred space as a way to reinforce a message that is antithetical to everything that the person of Jesus, whom we follow, and the gospel texts that we strive to emulate ... represent.
Louis Weisberg contributed to this report.