WASHINGTON – The head of the U.S. Park Police refused to appear Monday to answer lawmakers’ questions on violence against demonstrators and journalists outside the White House, saying he couldn’t as long as the federal force remains on highest alert for protests and attacks against monuments.
The White House, however, trumpeted the administration's continuing support of law officers in the now subsiding protests. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that President Donald Trump's vision was “for law and order, for peace in our streets, and against anarchy.”
The Trump administration at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing Monday on official use of force at this month's street protests did provide a written count and details on federal statues that had suffered lasting damage in the nation’s capital -– two. But Democratic lawmakers charged officials again failed to provide any evidence justifying the Park Police’s subjecting protesters and news media to chemical agents, clubbing and punching while clearing Lafayette Square in front of the White House on June 1.
“If there was a shred of evidence,” the administration would have presented “fact witnesses to support this gaslighting,” Rep. Jared Huffman, a California Democrat, said.
Republican Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah said the committee hearing, which featured an Australian journalist and a military veteran injured in authorities’ routing of demonstrators, but no administration officials, amounted to “political theater” and “good drama.”
The forceful clearing of protesters from Lafayette Square came during weeks of massive street demonstrations around the country against police killings of Black Americans. More recently, sporadic protests nationally have sought to take down statues of Confederate generals and other monuments that are seen as glossing over historic wrongs to U.S. Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans.
The clearing of Lafayette Square is the subject of an Interior Department inspector-general’s review and at least one lawsuit brought by those wounded. One of those, Navy veteran Kishon McDonald, told lawmakers Monday of being hit by the shrapnel from flash-bang grenades that authorities fired to chase away what he said were peaceful protesters.
“It hurts as a Black man to see that it’s 2020 and we still have a government who would do this to us again over something that seems so right to protest about,” McDonald said.
The acting chief of the U.S. Park Police, Gregory T. Monahan, wrote lawmakers that it would be impossible for him to appear to discuss his force’s actions because of “ongoing protests and accompanying violence and destruction of memorials and monuments.” Monahan suggested mid-to late July instead.
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt earlier this month said law officers and other security forces in Washington were under a “state of siege." Bernhardt in a letter to lawmakers then cited unspecified injuries to 50 Park Police officers, and said protesters brought on the forceful response by lobbing bricks, Molotov cocktails and other projectiles at authorities.
Democratic lawmakers say witness and journalist accounts and videos don’t support that, and say the administration has yet to detail the alleged wounds suffered by officers.
McEnany said federal officials have arrested over 100 of what she called “anarchists” for alleged rioting and destruction of federal property.
The National Park Service, part of the Interior Department, in a report Monday detailed structural damage to two statues — the toppling of a statue to Confederate officer Albert Pike, and the scratching of paint and the bending of a sword, along with damage to the wooden carriages of cannons, of a statue of President Andrew Jackson in front of the White House. Jackson was a slaveowner who presided over the large-scale uprooting of Native American communities to take their land.
Other statues had graffiti scrawled on them, since removed, the park service said.
At a separate briefing Monday, a House Oversight subcommittee addressed the treatment of protesters and journalists at demonstrations across the country, including Lafayette Square.
The administration has denied that authorities forced protesters from the square that day so Trump could stage a law-and-order photo op nearby, clinching an upheld Bible. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said Trump and Attorney General William Barr unleashed pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets on a crowd of peaceful protesters — many of them constituents from his suburban Washington district — in order to clear a path so Trump “could perform the most grotesque photo op in American history, waving someone else’s Bible upside-down and above his head.″
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Darlene Superville contributed. Knickmeyer reported from Oklahoma City.