Homeland Security Chair Asks Secret Service To Explain Use Of Tear Gas On Protestors Before Trump's Visit To St. John's

House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson is requesting an immediate briefing on the Secret Service's use of tear gas on protestors outside the White House before President Donald Trump's visit to St. John's Episcopal Church.

Thompson asked for a briefing "to understand the role of the United States Secret Service in planning, coordinating and executing these actions" to be delivered no later than June 5.

On Monday afternoon, tear gas was deployed onto a nonviolent protest in Lafayette Park in Washington D.C., forcing demonstrators to flee the area. Moments later, Trump emerged from the White House, followed by his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, alongside other administration officials.

Trump made his way to St. John's where he stopped briefly outside the church to hold up a bible for a photo-op.

In a letter to Secret Service Director James Murray, Thompson acknowledged the protests that have erupted across the nation since the death of George Floyd and the subsequent response law enforcement have had to make.

"Over the past week, Americans across the country have expressed their anger, fear and frustration at long-standing patterns of brutalization, dehumanization, injustice and state violence against African-Americans," he said, "I understand that Secret Service employees have had to make difficult decisions in responding to acts of violence that have interrupted the peaceful demonstrations in Washington D.C."

However, Thompson went on to denounce the Secret Service's decision to forcibly clear the square.

"I write to you stunned, disturbed, and furious at the sight of federal authorities teargassing peaceful protestors in Lafayette Park, outside the White House, last night, in order to clear the way for the president to walk over and hold a bible in front of St. John's Episcopal Church," he wrote, "It is shameful that the president used the power of the federal government to attack Americans exercising their Constitutional right to protest just so he could stage a photo opportunity."

According to The Washington Post, Attorney General William Barr was personally directed by Trump to lead the law enforcement officials on the ground in removing the protestors near the White House.

Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment but did not hear back at time of publication.

Lafayette Park protestors
Anti-racism protestors in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C. on June 1, 2020, a week after the death of George Floyd. Tear gas was later used to clear the area so that President Donald Trump could alk through to get to St. John's Episcopal Church. Mandel Ngan/Getty

The president's visit to the church has drawn heavy criticism from officials at St. John's.

The Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry released a statement addressing Trump's photo-op on Monday evening.

"This evening, the President of the United States stood in front of St. John's Episcopal Church, lifted up a Bible, and had pictures of himself taken. In so doing, he used a church building and the Holy Bible for partisan political purposes. This was done in a time of deep hurt and pain in our country, and his action did nothing to help us or to heal us," the statement read.

"For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be 'one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all'," Curry added.

Meanwhile, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway defended Trump's visit saying it is a "mischaracterization" to call it a 'photo-op.'

"I think those criticisms, people have a right to make them but I think they're unfortunate because they have more than a tinge of calling into question the president's motivation for going to a church that had been set on fire by anarchists and arsonists less than 24 hours earlier," Conway told reporters on Tuesday.

06/02/20, 5:52 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with comments from Kellyanne Conway and reporting from The Washington Post.