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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.

Virginia attorney general fires Jan. 6 investigator from university post

McIntire Amphitheater at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The lead investigator for the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol riot has been fired from his position as the University of Virginia's counsel by the state's new Republican attorney general, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Democrats say the removal of Tim Heaphy from his post after some three years while he's on leave from the university to investigate the insurrection is likely "retribution" for the House probe — an accusation strongly denied by the office of state Attorney General Jason Miyares (R).

4 hours ago - World

Taiwan's military scrambles jets after detecting 39 Chinese warplanes

J-20 stealth fighter jets in Zhuhai in the Guangdong Province of China last year. Photo: Chen Jimin/China News Service via Getty Images

Taiwan's defense force said 39 Chinese warplanes flew into its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Sunday.

Why it matters: The largest Chinese air force incursion into the zone since October came a day after the U.S. and Japanese navies conducted a joint exercise in the Philippine Sea.

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