White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday that President Trump's church photo-up was akin to British Prime Minister Winston Churchill surveying bombing damage in England during World War II.
McEnany called Trump's controversial walk to St. John's church on Monday - that had been directly preceded by ousting Black Lives Matter protesters and their allies from the area using force - an important 'leadership moment.'
'Like Churchill - we saw him inspecting the bombing damage - it sent a powerful image of leadership to the British people,' she said. 'And George W. Bush throwing out the ceremonnial first pitch after 9/11. And Jimmy Carter putting on a sweater to encourage energy savings. And George H.W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act flanked by two disabled Americans,' she went on.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany (left) compared President Trump's (right) controversial photo-op Monday in front of St. John's church with 'leadership moments' that included Winston Churchill surveying bombing damage and George W. Bush after 9/11
British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is photographed touring the bombed city of Bristol, England in April 1941 during World War II
President Trump's trip to St. John's was directly preceded by law enforcement officers using force to disperse protesters from H Street
Federal officials deny using 'tear gas' on protesters, saying that they deployed 'smoke canisters and pepper balls' instead
U.S. Park Police officers moved protesters back from the White House Monday night using force, with President Trump walking across Lafayette Park to St. John's church minutes later
Trump walked through Lafayette Park, across H Street, and stood in front of St. John's church - which had its basement nursery set on fire Sunday night when demonstrations got out of hand. The damage was minor, with the church's exterior fully intact, except for some graffiti tags.
He held a Bible aloft, talked about America becoming great again, and posed for pictures.
'For this president it was powerful and important to send a message that the rioters, the looters and the anarchists, they will not prevail,' McEnany said. 'That burning churches are not what America's about.'
'And that moment, holding the Bible up, is something that has been widely hailed by Franklin Graham and others and it was a very important symbol for the American people to see that we will get through this through unity and through faith,' McEnany said.
Some Americans, including local clergy, were outraged by Trump's photo-op, which they argued came at the expense of peaceful protesters, upset by the death of the unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer.
When McEnany compared Trump's move to Bush 43 and Churchill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday said, 'I think they're hallucinating.'
McEnany's Wednesday briefing also featured another White House explanation for why protesters were forcibly removed using 'pepper balls' - which the White House denies counts as 'tear gas,' despite what the Centers for Disease Control says.
''So let me first address, no teargas was used and no rubber bullets were used. Again, not tear gas was used and no rubber bullets were used,' McEnany told reporters.
At the scene, protesters could be seen being gassed, being hit, being moved upon by officers on horseback. Some reported being hit by rubber bullets.
'In the morning, [Attorney General Bill] Barr had determined that we needed to expand the perimeter by one block on each side,' she explained at Wednesday's press briefing. 'He was surprised, AG Barr, when he arrived at the White House to see that the perimeter had not been moved.'
McEnany said Barr told the U.S. Park Police officers and other law enforcement 'that we needed to get going' on moving the perimeter, an order she said Barr gave in the 'late afternoon.'
It's unclear when Barr made the order as he was spotted walking around Lafayette Park at 3:10 p.m. and later at 6:12 p.m., by CNN's cameras.
Between Barr's appearances, police made no effort to encourage the protesters to vacate H Street where Trump would need to cross to get to St. John's.
But at 6:30 p.m., just as Trump was about to deliver words about being a 'law and order' president, protesters reported seeing police movement, according to a timeline reconstruction reported by The Washingon Post.
The U.S. Park Police, in a statement Tuesday, said at 6:33 p.m. officers interacted with 'violent protesters on H Street N.W.' The Park Police said the protesters 'began throwing projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids.'
'Intelligence had revealed calls for violence against the police, and officers found caches of glass bottles, baseball bats and metal poles hidden along the street,' the statement said.
In response, police gave the crowd three warnings over a loudspeaker to move back before officers deployed 'smoke canisters and pepper balls.'
'No tear gas was used by USPP officers or other assisting law enforcement partners to close the area at Lafayette Park,' the statement said.
McEnany reiterated this point at Wednesday's briefing, explaining in a dizzying fashion that protesters were being moved out both on Barr's orders and because they became violent.
'The protesters were told three times over loudspeaker that they needed to move and what happened is it grew increasingly unruly, there were projectiles being thrown at officers, frozen water bottles were being thrown at officers, various other projectiles,' she said.
'And the officers had no other choice, but in that moment, but to act to make sure they were safe and the perimeter was pushed back because we all know a church was burning in that area the night before,' she said. 'So the appropriate action was taken.'
According to both Trump and McEnany, Trump had nothing to do with removing the protesters.
'Now, when I said go to the church, I didn’t know protestors or not. Nobody tells me that. They say, yes, sir. We’ll go to the church,' Trump said on Fox News Channel's Brian Kilmeade's radio show Wednesday morning.
'So we walked over to the church. It was very fast. I think it was very symbolic. I did hold up a Bible. I think that’s a good thing, not a bad thing, and many religious leaders loved it,' Trump added.
McEnany explained, 'He says, I want to go to the church, he goes to the church and everyone executes the plan in the order that the president puts into place.'
When asked by a reporter if Trump would still have made the walk with the protesters there, she answered, 'I'm not aware of the determinations that Secret Service had as they arranged for the president to walk out there.'
Loud bangs and commotion could be heard by reporters in the White House Rose Garden on Monday as the president delivered his remarks.