WASHINGTON — The United States Secret Service said Saturday that one of their agents had used pepper spray to clear protesters from Lafayette Square ahead of President Donald Trump’s photo op, reversing an earlier statement claiming that no one from the agency had done so.
“On June 5, the U.S. Secret Service released information that the agency had concluded that no agency personnel used tear gas or capsicum spray during efforts to secure the area near Lafayette Park on Monday, June 1, based on the record and information available at that time,” the Secret Service said in a statement shared on Twitter.
“Since that time, the agency has learned that one agency employee used capsicum spray (i.e., pepper spray) during that effort,” the statement continued.
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The Secret Service said that the agent used pepper spray “in response to an assaultive individual.”
The Secret Service statement is the latest reversal from a law enforcement agency on what happened on the evening of June 1 outside the White House grounds. Statements from law enforcement officials have frequently contradicted what protesters and on-the-ground reporters say happened and what many people witnessed happen on live TV.
Just days after the incident, a U.S. Park Police spokesperson said it was a “mistake” to say in an earlier statement that the agency did not use tear gas to clear peaceful protesters, while another Park Police official continued to insist the chemical was never used.
Attorney General William Barr initially told reporters that he had personally ordered the advance on protesters, but later backpedaled that claim saying he did not give a command to disperse the crowd though he did support the decision to do so.
While White House and law enforcement officials have yet to give a conclusive account of what happened, those on the ground say rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas and flash-bang grenades were used to force peaceful protesters out of the street in front of Lafayette Square so that Trump could walk across the grounds to take a picture holding a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church.
Although it remains unclear who directly ordered the peaceful protesters to be forcibly removed on June 1, Trump has been heavily criticized for what occurred that evening and for his threats to use military force to quell the protests in response to George Floyd’s death.
Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, apologized Thursday for his role in Trump’s church photo op, saying he shouldn’t have been at the scene.
Other military officials including Colin Powell, who served as secretary of state under former President George W. Bush and was previously chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and James Mattis, Trump’s former Defense Secretary, have criticized Trump for how he handled the protests.
Lauren Egan is a reporter for NBC News based in Washington.
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