WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he did not ask for protesters to be moved before he walked to a partially burned historic church near the White House to pose for photographs with a Bible and top aides.
"They didn't use tear gas," Trump told Fox News Radio interview, contradicting reports by a large number of protesters and reporters that tear gas was deployed to move them away from the church. "Now, when I went, I didn't say 'Oh, move them out.' I didn't know who was there."
On Monday evening, people protesting the police killing of George Floyd in front of St. John's Episcopal church, across the street from the White House, were shoved back by law enforcement as canisters released smoke.
A few minutes later, Trump, who had just announced a federal crackdown on the nationwide protests in the Rose Garden, walked to the church, accompanied by top administration officials.
Different reasons have emerged as outrage has grown over the use of force on peaceful protesters well before a city-wide 7 p.m. curfew.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Park Police said it deployed horse and riot units, as well as other officers, to respond to protesters throwing things, and then sent in smoke canisters and pepper balls when the protesters became combative. The media, though, has reported that the move came from Attorney General William Barr's desire to expand a security perimeter.
Trump said in the interview that nobody told him there were protesters when he decided to walk to the church. Typically, presidents who have attended services at St. John's have arrived with a motorcade.
"They say, 'yes, sir, we'll go to the church.' So we walked out to the church. It was very fast," he said.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bernadette Baum)