WASHINGTON - Members of Congress will hold a hearing Monday on the forcible clearing of peaceful protesters before President Donald Trump's controversial early June walk to St. John's Church for a photo opportunity.
The House Natural Resources Committee will hold its first hearing on the June 1 incident, in which peaceful protesters were removed from the park using chemical irritants, rubber bullets, shields and horses. Trump, who posed with a bible in front of the historic church along with members of his administration, drew wide condemnation for the force used on demonstrators.
House Democrats have pressed the Trump administration for information on its response to the protesters, who were cleared roughly a half-hour before what was then a 7 p.m. curfew in Washington, D.C. The Interior Department's Inspector General office has opened an investigation.
Former Trump Defense Secretary James Mattis called the event a "bizarre photo op" with the military in a scathing statement. Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley later said it was a "mistake" to participate in the walk to the church.
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The Democrat-led committee said the hearing will focus on determining what happened in the events leading up to and after the clearing of protesters, whether excessive force was used, and what policy options are available.
Kishon McDonald, a protester who was injured that day by law enforcement, is expected to testify along with Amelia Brace, an Australian reporter who was repeatedly punched by law enforcement officers, and the Right Rev. Mariann Budde, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, which includes St. John's Church.
McDonald, a Navy veteran, is part of a lawsuit against the Trump administration filed with other protesters and the Washington, D.C., chapter of Black Lives Matter, alleging the administration violated protesters' First Amendment Rights. The lawsuit says McDonald was "repeatedly struck by the shields of multiple officers which left bruises on his body," was struck even as he left the protest, and suffered symptoms "related to inhaling tear gas."
Brace and her cameraman were beaten by law enforcement in a scene captured dramatically on camera and hit by rubber bullets despite identifying themselves as press, prompting Australian officials to call for an inquiry into the assault.
She told her network, 7NEWS, that it was a "terrifying" ordeal, and she could still "feel it across my shoulders where I was whacked with that baton and we've got welts from the rubber bullets."
Budde condemned Trump's visit to the church without the church's permission and called the photo opportunity "antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and everything that our churches stand for."
The Committee also invited Gregory Monahan, acting chief of the United States Park Police, to testify, but it appears he will not be attending the hearing.
The square and the nearby streets had been filled with protesters for days in the wake of George Floyd's killing. But prior to Trump's visit to the church, the security perimeter outside the White House was expanded. The United States Park Police said warnings to protesters were delivered several times over a loudspeaker before the protesters were cleared, but accounts noted the warnings were inaudible over the noise of the crowd.
Law enforcement agents used pepper spray and other chemical irritants to clear protesters from the square and street.
Interior Department Inspector General Mark Greenblatt wrote a letter to congressional leaders saying his office would "make an initial determination of which agency had command and control of the law enforcement operation and conduct a review of Park Police actions accordingly."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump's photo op, Lafayette Square are focuses of hearing in Congress