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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.

Resurrecting Martin Luther King's office

King points to Selma, Alabama on a map at his Southern Christian Leadership Conference office in Atlanta in January 1965. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Contributor

Efforts to save the office where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., planned some of the most important moments of the civil rights movement are hitting roadblocks amid a political stalemate.

Why it matters: The U.S. Park Service needs to OK agreements so a developer restoring the historic Prince Hall Masonic Lodge in Atlanta — which once housed King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference — can tap into private funding and begin work.

Off the Rails

Episode 4: Trump turns on Barr

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Drew Angerer, Pool/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 4: Trump torches what is arguably the most consequential relationship in his Cabinet.

Attorney General Bill Barr stood behind a chair in the private dining room next to the Oval Office, looming over Donald Trump. The president sat at the head of the table. It was Dec. 1, nearly a month after the election, and Barr had some sharp advice to get off his chest. The president's theories about a stolen election, Barr told Trump, were "bullshit."

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