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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.
6 mins ago - Health

CDC updates guidance on airborne COVID-19

A patron eats lunch in March at Philippe The Original near downtown Los Angeles. Photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The CDC acknowledged Friday that airborne spread of COVID-19 among people more than 6 feet apart "has been repeatedly documented."

Why it matters: This is "a change from the agency’s previous position that most infections were acquired through 'close contact, not airborne transmission,'" the N.Y. Times reports.

11 hours ago - World

Over 170 Palestinians injured in clashes with Israeli police in Jerusalem

An injured man is carried away as Israeli security forces clash with Palestinian protesters at the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem. Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

At least 178 Palestinians have been injured in clashes with Israeli police in Jerusalem, Reuters reported late Friday.

The big picture: The clashes come amid growing anger over the threatened eviction of Palestinians from their homes on land claimed by Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem. Tensions have also escalated in the occupied West Bank in recent weeks.

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