Attorney General Bill Barr said at a press conference Thursday that there was "no correlation" between his decision to order police to forcibly remove protesters from Lafayette Park and President Trump's subsequent visit to St. John's Episcopal Church earlier this week.

Driving the news: Barr was asked to respond to comments from Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said Tuesday that he "did not know a photo op was happening" and that he does everything he can to "try and stay out of situations that may appear political."

What he's saying: "My interest was to carry out the law enforcement functions of the federal government and to protect federal facilities and federal personnel, and also to address the rioting that was interfering with the governments' function. That was what we were doing," Barr said.

  • "I think the president is the head of the executive branch and the chief executive of the nation and should be able to walk outside the White House and walk across the street to the 'church of presidents.' I don't necessarily view that as a political act," he continued.
  • "I think it was entirely appropriate for him to do. I did not know that he was going to do that until later in the day after our plans were well underway to move the perimeter."

The big picture: Barr said that authorities have made 51 arrests for federal crimes related to rioting, and that the Justice Department has evidence that "antifa and other similar extremist groups" have been involved in attempts to incite violence.

  • Asked why he directly named antifa instead of citing examples of right-wing extremists that have already been arrested, Barr said: "I think it's important to point out the witches' brew that we have of extremist individuals and groups that are involved."
  • "That is why in my prepared statement, I specifically said in addition to antifa and other groups like antifa, there were a variety of groups and people of a variety of ideological persuasions. So I did make that point."

Go deeper

Zuckerberg to "Axios on HBO": "Just wrong" to say Facebook driven by conservatives

Mark Zuckerberg told "Axios on HBO" that it's "just wrong" to consider Facebook a right-wing echo chamber, even though conservative voices top the platform's most-engaged content.

  • "It's true that partisan content often has kind of a higher percent of people ... engaging with it, commenting on it, liking it," Zuckerberg told Axios.

Amy Coney Barrett sworn in as Supreme Court justice

Amy Coney Barrett took the constitutional oath to serve as a Supreme Court justice at a White House ceremony Monday night, not long after the Senate voted to confirm her nomination to the high court in a 52-48 vote.

The state of play: Justice Clarence Thomas administered the oath. The Supreme Court wrote in a statement that Barrett will take the judicial oath on Tuesday, at which point she will be able to begin her work on the court.

Gulf Coast braces for Zeta after storm strengthens into hurricane

Hurricane Zeta's forecast path. Photo: National Hurricane Center

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) declared a state of emergency Monday as Zeta strengthened into a hurricane and threatened Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula as it moved towards the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The state of play: Zeta was expected to make landfall on the northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula Monday night, bringing with it a "dangerous storm surge" and "heavy rainfall" as it moved into the Gulf of Mexico, the National Hurricane Service said.

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