More than 1,250 former Department of Justice employees on Wednesday called on the department's inspector general to open an investigation into reports that Attorney General William Barr personally ordered the tear-gassing of protesters in Washington, D.C. on June 1.
The former employees wrote that Inspector General Michael Horowitz must get to the bottom of Barr's involvement in the dispersing of the crowd, which was part of the nationwide uprising against racial injustice following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
The Washington Post reported last week that Barr directed law enforcement officers on the ground to deploy tear gas, rubber bullets, and stun grenades at protesters just before President Donald Trump walked through the park to get to a nearby church for a photo-op.
The attorney general himself has been unclear about his involvement, reads the letter, which was organized by the nonprofit advocacy group Protect Democracy.
"While the full scope of the Attorney General's role is not yet clear, he has admitted that he was present in front of the White House before law enforcement personnel took action to disperse the crowd," wrote the former employees. "Department of Justice and White House personnel initially said that the Attorney General gave an order to law enforcement personnel to 'get going' or 'get it done.' A day later, the Attorney General told the Associated Press that he was 'not involved in giving tactical commands.'"
At least one Justice Department official and White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany have said Barr arrived at the scene on June 1 to tell police officers to disperse the crowd.
Barr also falsely claimed in an interview with CBS News this week that pepper spray, which Washington, D.C.'s Park Police acknowledged using, is not a "chemical irritant."
"Based on what we now know, these actions violated both the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which protects freedom of speech and the press, and the right to assemble; and the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable seizures, to include objectively unreasonable uses of force by law enforcement officers," wrote the signatories. "None of us would ever have considered directing or engaging in such actions to be consistent with our oaths to support and defend the Constitution."
The letter was signed by former officials including Vanita Gupta, now president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; civil rights attorney Sasha Samberg-Champion; and John Dean, former White House counsel under President Richard Nixon.
Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also called for a federal investigation into Barr's involvement in ordering the Park Police force to disperse the protesters.
Warren also demanded a probe into any role the U.S. military has played in responding to nationwide protests over police brutality in recent weeks, after the president and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper urged governors to "dominate" Americans engaged in civil disobedience.
In the letter to Horowitz, the former DOJ employees wrote that they are "disturbed" by Barr's use of a number of federal agencies throughout the country to quell "lawful First Amendment activity."
"We have profound doubts that the personnel deployed from these agencies are adequately trained in policing mass protests or protecting the constitutional rights of individuals who are not subject to arrest or have not been convicted of a crime," the group wrote.
"Especially in view of the events in Lafayette Square," the signatories added, "we have no assurance that these officers are lawfully deployed, that they will respect the rights of the civilians they encounter, or that there are proper mechanisms in place to identify and investigate possible law enforcement misconduct."