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1,250-Plus Former DOJ Employees Call for Investigation of Bill Barr’s ‘Role in Ordering’ Use of Force Against Protesters

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 01: U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at the press briefing room flanked Attorney General William Barr and other administration officials April 1, 2020 in Washington, DC. After announcing yesterday that COVID-19 could kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans, the Trump administration is also contending with the economic effects of the outbreak as the stock market continues to fall, businesses remain closed, and companies lay off and furlough employees.

More than 1,250 former employees of the Department of Justice signed their names on an open letter on Wednesday, formally requesting that DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz open an investigation into Attorney General William Barr’s “role in ordering” law enforcement to clear protesters outside the White House earlier this month.

“We are deeply concerned about the Department’s actions, and those of Attorney General William Barr himself, in response to the nationwide lawful gatherings to protest the systemic racism that has plagued this country throughout its history, recently exemplified by the brutal killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by sworn law enforcement officers acting under the color of law,” stated the letter, which was posted on the website Medium.

“In particular, we are disturbed by Attorney General Barr’s possible role in ordering law enforcement personnel to suppress a peaceful domestic protest in Lafayette Square on June 1, 2020, for the purpose of enabling President Trump to walk across the street from the White House and stage a photo op at St. John’s Church, a politically motivated event in which Attorney General Barr participated.”

The Trump administration previously confirmed that the decision to push the protesters back came from Barr, though the attorney general himself has been less forthcoming.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany later said the White House had “no regrets” about using force to clear protesters, but noted that “it was Barr who made the decision to move the perimeter.”

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 a CBS News interview, Barr said the media has media “has not done a very good job of covering” what happened:

I came over on- on Monday morning for a meeting. The night before had been the most violent, as one of the police officials told us, the D.C. police, it was the most violent day in Washington in 30 years, something that the media has not done a very good job of covering. And there had been a riot right along Lafayette Park. I was called over and asked if I would coordinate federal civil agencies and that the Defense Department would provide whatever support I needed or we needed to protect federal property at the White House, federal personnel. The decision was made to have at the ready and on hand in the vicinity some regular troops. But everyone agreed that the use of regular troops was a last resort and that as long as matters can be controlled with other resources, they should be. I felt, and the Secretary of Defense felt, we had adequate resources and wouldn’t need to use federal troops. But in case we did, we wanted them nearby.

In their letter, the DOJ alumni argued that it was critically important to get to the bottom of Barr’s role in the decision because it likely violated the U.S. Constitution.

“If the Attorney General issued orders to officers of a variety of federal agencies, including U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Park Police, D.C. National Guard, and U.S. Military Police, it is unclear under what purported authority he did so,” the letter stated. “Based on what we now know, these actions violated both the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which protects freedom of speech and the press, and the right to assemble; and the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable seizures, to include objectively unreasonable uses of force by law enforcement officers. None of us would ever have considered directing or engaging in such actions to be consistent with our oaths to support and defend the Constitution.”

The letter also asked Horowitz to investigate the DOJ’s deployment of federal officers “throughout the country,” particularly singling out reports of officers that bore no identification and refused to say anything other than that they worked for the DOJ.

Also on Wednesday, House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wa.) said U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had repeatedly refused to respond to the Committee’s requests for answers to questions about “the use of military forces in response to peaceful protestors” in D.C. and the potential deployment of “active duty troops around the United States” if the president were to invoke the Insurrection Act.

[Image via Win McNamee/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.