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Barr denies Trump demanded 10,000 troops to quell protests

In this file image, U.S. Attorney General William Barr attends the daily coronavirus briefing at the White House on March 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

Attorney General William Barr on Sunday denied that President Donald Trump wanted 10,000 active duty troops sent onto American streets to quell unrest.

Barr, in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” pushed back on reports by several news organizations that the president initially made the demand before backing down after resistance by Barr and other administration officials.

Barr said that in a meeting on Monday, Trump didn’t order or suggest the deployment of troops. Ultimately, members of the 82nd Airborne Division were put on standby to enter Washington but weren’t deployed. Barr said he and other officials only wanted to use the troops if conditions in Washington got worse.

One of the best known U.S. military units, the 82nd Airborne is an infantry division that specializes in parachute assault operations, typically in crisis situations, and is deployable anywhere in the world on very short notice.

“I think our position was common, which was that they should only be deployed if — as a last resort, and that we didn’t think we would need them. Every — I think everyone was on the same page,” Barr said.

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‘Heated’ debate

CBS and other news organizations reported that Trump, in a Monday meeting in the Oval Office, demanded that 10,000 troops be put on the streets immediately as violent protests or looting flared in the capital and several other cities.

The CBS report, citing an unnamed senior administration official, said Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley objected to the move in the meeting, which the report described as “heated.”

Barr said the reports were false. CBS anchor Margaret Brennan after the interview said the network stood behind its reporting.

In the Sunday interview, Barr also defended the police’s use of force to disperse protesters in Lafayette Square near the White House, immediately before Trump briefly visited St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo-op that was quickly turned into a campaign video.

Barr said protesters had thrown objects at police and that they had been warned to move, which some reporters on the scene said they didn’t observe. He said that the clearing of the protesters and Trump’s visit to the church, which occurred minutes apart, were not connected.

“I haven’t studied the — the events retrospectively in detail, but I think in general, you had the qualified law enforcement officials with shields warning and moving a line slowly. They had mounted officers moving slowly, directing people to move. And most people complied,” said Barr when asked if he would have done anything differently in hindsight.

Out-of-state National Guard troops who were deployed to D.C. last week are moving out. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told reporters on Sunday that “we came right up to the edge” of deploying active-duty military personnel to the capital.

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© 2020 Bloomberg News

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.