Did Barr not hear Trump’s explanation about this last week? The president was asked if the reports were true, that the demonstrations outside the White House had turned so menacing on Friday, May 29, that the Secret Service had to rush him and family members to the White House bunker in case the building was overrun.
Nonsense, said Trump. It had nothing to do with feeling threatened. He simply went for an inspection, coincidentally at a moment when there were hordes of angry people outside.
Trump told Kilmeade: “I was there for a tiny, short little period of time” and said he had visited the bunker “two or three times, all for inspection”.
“And you go there, someday you may need it, but you go there, I went down, I looked at it, it was during the day, it was not a problem. And I read about it like a big thing. There was never a problem, nobody ever came close to giving us a problem.”
His anxiety about being perceived as frightened once news of his trip to the bunker spread was allegedly so intense that it led directly to that sh*tshow in Lafayette Park last Monday. The demonstrators had forced him to retreat so now he was going to force them to retreat and reclaim the territory around the White House:
President Trump was angered by coverage that he was rushed to the underground bunker during protests Friday night and told aides he wanted to be seen outside the White House gates, per @Kevinliptakcnn, leading in part to his walk to St. John’s today.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) June 2, 2020
One can only wonder if his interest in deploying 10,000 active-duty troops to quell the violence in American cities was also a byproduct. It’d be classic strongman behavior to overcorrect for an accusation of weakness with a show of unnecessary force.
Either way, the White House narrative was that the president didn’t retreat under fire from rioters. He “inspected” the bunker, he didn’t flee to it.
So what was Barr doing saying this yesterday on Fox?
Baier: If you had to do Monday over again, would you do something different?
Barr: Based on what I know now, no… Things were so bad, the secret service recommended the President go down to the bunker. We can’t have that in our country. pic.twitter.com/2p64yP9G0s
— Acyn (@Acyn) June 8, 2020
Are we, uh, about to have another vacancy at the top of the DOJ? Or will the president leave Barr in place and just smack-talk him every day like he did to Jeff Sessions?
All I can think to explain the contradiction is that Barr is focused on public perceptions of the Lafayette Park stunt whereas Trump is focused on public perceptions about him being forced to flee to the bunker. Trump cares about “strength”; he doesn’t care if people like James Mattis and Mike Mullen found the thuggish clearing of the park for a presidential photo op alarming. Barr does seem to care about the backlash (a little), especially given the curious coincidence that he walked out to consult with the Park Police minutes before they finally advanced on protesters. He insists that he didn’t give the order to clear the park but it sure looks like he gave the order to clear the park. Barr’s top priority in the aftermath, then, may be to explain why he felt the operation was necessary. By pointing to the fact that the president had had to run to the bunker just a few days before, he bolsters the case that the demonstrators had to be dealt with forcefully.
The irony is that the Lafayette Park stunt has probably hurt Trump more politically than perceptions of “weakness” from his bunker trip did. It was the park operation that finally convinced James Mattis to speak out against Trump, calling the incident an “abuse of executive authority.” It’s hard to say that Trump’s polling slipped as a direct result of it of the withering criticism afterwards but the plain fact is that he’s a bit further behind Biden today than he was eight days ago.
In lieu of an exit question, here’s a stellar video analysis by WaPo of how things went down in the park. There was some question last week whether Park Police had really used tear gas on the protesters, as if that matters fundamentally to what was abusive about the situation. But yes, based on this, they used chemical irritants on protesters to force them to disperse, which of course is the point of tear gas.