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Lawsuit Seeks Documents on William Barr’s Role in Federal Crackdown Outside of White House

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 28: U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in the Congressional Auditorium at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center July 28, 2020 in Washington, DC. In his first congressional testimony in more than a year, Barr faced questions from the committee about his deployment of federal law enforcement agents to Portland, Oregon, and other cities in response to Black Lives Matter protests; his role in using federal agents to violently clear protesters from Lafayette Square near the White House last month before a photo opportunity for President Donald Trump in front of a church; his intervention in court cases involving Trump's allies Roger Stone and Michael Flynn; and other issues.

A new lawsuit filed Friday is seeking answers regarding Attorney General William Barr’s role in the federal government’s response to widespread protests sparked by the death of George Floyd. Government watchdog group American Oversight filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. after several federal agencies failed to respond to the organizations Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

The initial FOIA request filed in June stemmed from the federal government’s use of force to remove protesters demonstrating outside the White House in Lafayette Square, after which, the president participated in a photo op with the Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

White House press secretary Kaleigh McEnany initially told reporters that “it was Barr who made the decision” to remove protesters from the square. However, in an interview with the Associated Press, Barr claimed law enforcement officers were already moving to push protesters from Lafayette Square upon his arrival, saying he did not give the command to disperse the crowd, but supported the decision.

In its lawsuit, American Oversight asked the court to order the Trump administration to turn over any records, including email sand text messages, reflecting “orders, directives, and guidance issued by Attorney General Barr in the course of his role in leading the federal response to protests.”

The suit over record production also addresses the more recent federal response to protests in Portland and other cities where, in a crackdown on threats to federal property, the administration sent camouflaged federal agents without identifying badges to quell unrest, in many cases against the wishes of state and local elected officials.

American Oversight asked the court to compel the administration to produce records “sufficient to identify all federal police forces, national guard forces, and/or military forces deployed domestically in response to protests or purportedly unlawful activity,” and  “informational documents used to inform the Attorney General and his staff of the status and location of such deployments, as well as the number of personnel and assets deployed are responsive to this request.”

The named defendants in the lawsuit are the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security, as well as U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the National Guard Bureau.

Previous documents obtained by American Oversight include Defense Deptartment emails showing President Donald Trump made the “final decision” on withholding military aid to Ukraine, and a whistleblower complaint claiming the State Department blocked officials from reporting on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s conduct.

Read the full filed complaint below:

American Oversight Lawsuit by Law&Crime on Scribd

[image via Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.