USA

Trump denies ordering protesters forcibly removed for church photo op

The president claims he went to an underground bunker to inspect it.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday denied he had ordered peaceful protesters forcibly moved so he could visit a church near the White House earlier this week, amid harsh criticism for the crackdown.

"When I said, 'Go to the church,' I didn’t know protesters or not," Trump said "Nobody tells me that. They say, 'Yes sir, we’ll go to the church.'"

Law enforcement on Monday used chemical irritants and smoke canisters to clear peaceful protesters from Lafayette Park, just north of the White House, immediately before Trump briefly walked to the church to pose with a bible in front of it and took photographs with his aides.

“When I went, I didn’t say, ‘Oh, move them out’—I didn’t know who was there,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News Radio. “I figured I was going to walk over to the church, very nearby.”

"We walked over to the church," he said. "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."

Trump also downplayed being brought to an underground bunker during protests outside the White House Friday, when the building was briefly put on lockdown.

On Friday evening, Trump was moved to the bunker to shelter in place for a brief period of time, multiple senior sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

The president denied he had gone down because of the protests, but rather to conduct an "inspection" of the bunker.

"They said it would be a good time to go down and take a look, because maybe you'll need it," he said.

He went for a "tiny, short period" of time, he said.

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