President Donald Trump's widely-panned church photo-op was masterminded by senior White House adviser Ivanka Trump, according to a new report.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows revealed at a senior staff meeting that the photo-op was the first daughter's idea. While "others were getting credit for the church appearances," Meadows said it was Ivanka who "deserved the credit," two officials told The New York Times.
The news came after an earlier New York Times article reported it was senior adviser Hope Hicks who had "hatched" the plan with others at the White House.
In addition to a chorus of Democrats, the photo-op turned was panned by the bishop that oversees the church, evangelical leaders like Pat Robertson and even some Republican lawmakers after police backed by the National Guard unleashed tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bang shells on peaceful protesters to clear a path for the president.
Trump was allegedly "annoyed" after reports revealed that had been taken to the White House bunker — he now claims he was just "inspecting" it — as protesters closed in Friday on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. As a result, Ivanka "urged" her dad to come up with a "more personal way of demonstrating toughness," The Times reported.
Trump decided to walk to the church, which had been damaged by fire during the protests, but a plan to expand the security perimeter outside the White House had been delayed. Attorney General William Barr reportedly ordered federal forces to disperse the peaceful protesters at nearby Lafayette Park, leading to images of authorities storming peaceful protesters as they unleashed tear-inducing gas, which Trump now insists was not "tear gas."
After the park was cleared, Trump and administration officials walked over to St. John's Church so he could pose for a photo holding a Bible.
Trump was accompanied, among others, by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who has spun himself in knots trying to explain away his participation. Esper on Tuesday told NBC News that he had thought he was accompanying Trump to view a vandalized bathroom in the park.
"I didn't know where I was going," Esper said. "I wanted to see how much damage actually happened."
A spokesman later told NBC News that Esper was aware he was going to the church, but insisted he did not know the president was "going to use it as a photo opportunity."
Ivanka Trump, who also accompanied her father, was spotted transporting the Bible in a $1,540 MaxMara purse. Ivanka, the only member of Trump's entourage to wear a face mask, stood on the sidelines when the photos were taken.
"The handbag clasped in her right hand announced that she was not sticking around. She was there, but not committed — not to empathy, not to the militaristic display of strength, not to this gamesmanship, not to the horrors of this national stress test, not to anything but the Ivanka-ness of her public image, which is always about being power-adjacent," The Washington Post's Robin Givhan wrote. "Ivanka doggedly inserts herself into the center of photographs and conversations where she does not seem to belong, but this time she remained on the sidelines when the posing started."
Ivanka was seen handing the Bible to Trump, which he hoisted like a WWE wrestler who had just won a championship belt.
A day earlier, as protests raged across the country, Ivanka tweeted a Bible verse, prompting scorn from other social media users.
"This is literally an excerpt from a Bible story about deliverance from a mad king," Franklin Leonard, the founder of The Black List, said.
Ivanka's church photo-op idea drew far more criticism after the unprompted attack on peaceful protesters and journalists moments after Trump declared himself an "ally of peaceful protesters."
Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, which oversees the church, said she was "outraged" that Trump showed up "without permission" after "acting like an authoritarian dictator" and issuing a "message that is antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and to the God of justice."
Some White House officials privately expressed disappointment that the entourage did not include a single person of color, according to The Times.
"I've never been more ashamed," one senior White House official told Axios. "I'm really honestly disgusted. I'm sick to my stomach, and they're all celebrating it. They're very very proud of themselves."
Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser criticized the administration for allegedly targeting peaceful protesters before the city's curfew had even gone into effect.
"I don't think the military should be used in the streets of American cities against Americans," she said, "and I definitely don't think it should be done for a show."