The controversial clearing of a crowd of peaceful protesters before President Trump spoke at St. John's Church Monday was personally ordered by Attorney General William Barr, Justice Department sources tell the Washington Post. Federal police officers used batons, riot shields, tear gas, and rubber bullets to force demonstrators away from the Lafayette Park area across from the White House before a phalanx of Secret Service officers escorted Trump to the church. A Justice Department official says Barr spoke to law enforcement officials after visiting the scene and discovering that plans to extend the perimeter around the area by a block had not been executed. "He conferred with them to check on the status and basically said: 'This needs to be done. Get it done,'" the official tells the Post.
An official tells CNN that Barr, who was heckled as he surveyed the scene around 6pm, told police to use crowd control measures if protesters resisted law enforcement. Officers charged the crowd at 6:35pm, and Trump walked to the church for the photo-op at 7pm. Veteran Secret Service agents say the area is cleared dozens of times a year without incident and they were surprised by the sudden use of force Monday. "Usually officers hold a line and don’t move forward unless there is provocation," one former agent tells the Post. "The officers give constant warnings and communicate clearly with the crowd. But here it seems like there is some time pressure; they were acting like a bomb is about to go off." The Hill reports that a Democratic resolution condemning the treatment of protesters was blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Tuesday. (Read more William Barr stories.)