President Trump with Esper and Barr following behind him. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against President Trump, Attorney General Bill Barr and other federal officials on behalf of Black Lives Matter and other peaceful protesters who were forcibly removed with rubber bullets and chemical irritants before Trump's photo-op at the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church on Monday.

What they're saying: "The President's shameless, unconstitutional, unprovoked, and frankly criminal attack on protesters because he disagreed with their views shakes the foundation of our nation’s constitutional order," said ACLU of D.C. legal director Scott Michelman. "And when the nation's top law enforcement officer becomes complicit in the tactics of an autocrat, it chills protected speech for all of us."

  • "Across the country, law enforcement armed with military weaponry are responding with violence to people who are protesting police brutality," added Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.
  • "The First Amendment right to protest is under attack, and we will not let this go unanswered. This is the first of many lawsuits the ACLU intends to file across the country in response to police brutality against protesters."

The big picture: Former Defense Secretary James Mattis, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and some Republican lawmakers have condemned Trump's decision to physically clear peaceful protesters from the scene.

The other side: 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 Trump's subsequent visit to the church.

Go deeper: Trump walks to historic St. John's Church outside White House as protests rage

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Coronavirus testing czar: "We are not flattening the curve right now"

Adm. Brett Giroir, the Health and Human Services official overseeing the nation's coronavirus testing efforts, told Congress Thursday that the U.S. is "not flattening the curve right now," and that the nationwide surge in new cases is not simply a result of more testing.

Why it matters: President Trump said at a press conference just hours earlier that the U.S. is getting the coronavirus "under control." He and other top members of his administration have sought to downplay the growing surge in infections as largely a product of increased testing.