Attorney General William Barr on Sunday repeatedly defended on the violent show of force used by D.C. police last week to clear peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park moments before President Donald Trump’s photo-op at St. John’s Episcopal Church, ultimately playing semantics on the use of chemical munitions by law enforcement.
During a wide-ranging interview on Face the Nation, anchor Margaret Brennan pressed the attorney general on whether he felt in hindsight it was “appropriate for them to use smoke bombs, tear gas, pepper balls, projectiles at what appeared to be peaceful protesters?”
An unapologetic Barr, who was behind the order to aggressively clear the demonstrators, insisted that “they were not peaceful protesters” and that this is “one of the big lies that the media” is perpetuating.
Brennan, for her part, pointed out that three of her CBS colleagues were present and didn’t hear the so-called warnings from police or see any projectiles thrown, claims made by both Barr and the police.
“There were three warnings given,” Barr reacted before suggesting these were the very same “violent rioters” who were responsible for fire damage to St. John’s Church.
The attorney general would go on to say that he approved a plan for law enforcement to “increase the perimeter” at 2 p.m. that day, adding that the “park police was facing what they considered to be a very rowdy and non-compliant crowd” that were throwing projectiles.
Brennan again pointed out that none of her colleagues saw anything thrown at police prior to the show of aggression, prompting Barr to assert that he personally “saw them thrown.” While claiming that police had to deal with violent protesters, Barr also insisted that “this was not an operation to respond to that particular crowd—it was an operation to move the perimeter one block.”
Brennan again pressed the attorney general on whether he thought it was appropriate for police to use tear gas and other munitions to disperse the crowd, causing Barr to try to play a semantics game.
“No, there were not chemical irritants,” he falsely proclaimed. “Pepper spray is not a chemical irritant. It’s not chemical.”
Park Police have repeatedly insisted they did not use tear gas canisters and “only” used smoke canisters and pepper balls. Local reporters, however, collected spent canisters of CM Spede Heat CS and CM Skat Shell OC, both of which are types of tear gas. (“OC” stands for oleoresin capsicum, a chile-pepper-derived chemical, while “CS” is an abbreviation for 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile—the key ingredient in tear gas.)
The Centers for Disease Control, meanwhile, also classifies pepper spray as a form of tear gas, prompting the spokesperson for the Park Police to admit it was a “mistake” for them to have claimed officers didn’t use tear gas on the scene. The CDC specifically says pepper spray is a chemical compound that can “temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin”—in other words, a chemical irritant.
After repeatedly asserting that the police’s actions were appropriate, Barr also claimed that he was wholly unaware that Trump was going to make a Rose Garden speech right as officers cleared the area where the president would then pose with a Bible for a photo-op.
“But you understand how these events appear connected?” Brennan shot back.
“Well, it’s the job of the media to tell the truth. They were not connected,” Barr answered, leading the CBS host to ask if he knew about the president’s speech when he gave the “green light.”
“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,” he declared, adding that he had “no idea” about Trump’s actions.