Donald Trump denied that he went to the White House bunker on Friday night out of a sense of precaution as the protests raged outside in Lafayette Square Park.
“Well, it was a false report,” Trump told Fox News Radio’s Brian Kilmeade in a call-in interview on Wednesday. “I went down during the day, and I was there for a tiny little short period of time. It was much more for an inspection. There was no problem during the day. …These problems are during the night, not during the day.”
“I’ve gone down two or three times, all for inspection, and you go there, some day you may need it. And you go there, and I went down, and it was during the day. It was not a problem.”
The New York Times, CNN and other outlets reported that Trump was taken to the bunker for a little under an hour on Friday night, as protests raged outside.
Trump also appeared to try to distance himself from the widely criticized action by U.S. Park Police to clear protesters from the park area in advance of his visit just minutes later to St. John’s Church, where he held up a Bible for a photo op.
“When they said, ‘Go to the Church,’ I didn’t know protesters or not. Nobody tells me that. They say, ‘Yes, sir, we will go to the church,'” Trump said. “So we walked over to the church. I think it was very fast. I think it was very symbolic.”
Protesters were cleared from the area just before Trump went to the White House Rose Garden to deliver a brief statement, where he vowed to bring “law and order” to quell unrest in the wake of the death of George Floyd, and threatening to send in the military to states unable to end disturbances.
As he spoke, the sounds coming from the park could be heard by reporters. The chaos that ensued outside also was widely covered live, with some outlets doing a split screen as Trump spoke. Those on the scene of the protest said that police used rubber bullets and tear gas to clear the area.
Trump defended the visit to the church, claiming that “most religious leaders loved it,” naming Franklin Graham as one person who praised the visit. But Mariann Budde, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., which includes the historic St. John’s Church, was harshly critical of Trump’s visit. The Rev. Gini Gerbasi, rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Georgetown, said that she was forcibly removed from the church’s patio area with “tear gas and concussion grenades and police in full riot gear.”
Trump also took issue with media reports that police used “tear gas” to clear the area. The Park Police said that pepper balls were used, but the distinction may be more a matter of semantics. According to the Centers for Disease Control, that, too, falls under the definition of tear gas. “Riot control agents (sometimes referred to as ‘tear gas’) are chemical compounds that temporarily make people unable to function by causing irritation to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs, and skin.”
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