The Park Police and National Guard had responded to the scene that day to clear a crowd. The ACLU echoed claims that officials used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse peaceful demonstrators and that Barr’s role in the incident prohibits his involvement in any probe of the matter.
“Given your own acknowledged role in ordering the clearing of Lafayette Square, you must take all necessary steps to ensure that you and others involved in the ordering and carrying out of the use of force have no role in the appointment or supervision of the special counsel,” the ACLU said in a letter to Barr dated July 14.
Park Police insisted that while pepper balls and smoke canisters were used, the protesters had been hurling projectiles as officers worked to clear out the location before President Trump arrived for a visit to St. John’s Church, which had been vandalized the night before amid unrest over George Floyd’s death in police custody.
“Attorney General Bill Barr and other administration officials appear to have criminally conspired to violently attack lawful demonstrators and all signs indicate they have since been engaged in a concerted cover up effort,” ACLU senior legislative counsel Kate Ruane said in a statement. “History books will certainly remember Bill Barr for the crimes of the Trump administration, but a full, independent investigation now is necessary to hold him and any other officials who may be responsible for this chilling incident accountable today.”
Administration officials had said that Barr ordered the perimeter of the park to be extended prior to Trump’s visit, but Barr himself said that he did not give any order regarding clearing protesters.
“I’m not involved in giving tactical commands like that,” he told The Associated Press. “I was frustrated and I was also worried that as the crowd grew, it was going to be harder and harder to do. So my attitude was get it done, but I didn’t say, ‘Go do it.’”
“The American people deserve to know with certainty what happened that day, particularly who gave the order to use violent force to clear demonstrators and journalists who were exercising their constitutionally protected rights, under what authority, and why, and they deserve to have any responsible officials who violated the law held accountable,” the ACLU’s letter said. “The appointment of an outside special counsel is a necessary step to ensure justice.”
Fox News’ Morgan Phillips and The Associated Press contributed to this report.