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Police used gas to clear protesters from Lafayette Park before President Donald Trump walked over and held a Bible up at St. John’s Episcopal Church.

USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – After saying it didn’t, the Secret Service admitted Saturday it used pepper spray when it helped clear out Lafayette Square June 1 to allow for President Donald Trump’s photo op in front of St. John’s Church.

The agency last week announced none of their officers used tear gas or capsicum spray (another name for pepper spray). On Saturday, the agency charged with protecting presidents retracted that claim.

“After further review, the U.S. Secret Service has determined that an agency employee used pepper spray on June 1st, during efforts to secure the area near Lafayette Park ” according to a statement the agency tweeted. “The employee utilized oleoresin capsicum spray, or pepper spray, in response to an assaultive individual.”

Neither the rank nor name of the employee was disclosed.

The Secret Service joined other law enforcement agencies and military police on June 1 to drive protesters out of Lafayette Square, located between the White House and the historic St. John’s Church, shortly before the president walked to the church and held up a Bible.

More: ‘I should not have been there’: Joint Chiefs Chair Mark Milley says it was a ‘mistake’ to walk with Trump to church

Demonstrators were gathered in the area to protest the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed African American man who died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

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In the days after the photo op, Trump and his allies pushed back forcefully against claims that tear gas was used to disperse protesters that most witness accounts say were acting peacefully right before they were forcefully removed.

More: USA TODAY Poll: Forceful clearing of Lafayette Square protest was defining moment for president and protests

The U.S. Park Police, one of the law enforcement agencies involved with clearing the park, denied using tear gas. But the agency later acknowledged using “pepper balls,” another chemical irritant that causes people to tear up and cough.  

The agency also said it used “smoke canisters.”

A pepper ball is a projectile that contains chemicals, like pepper spray, that would irritate the eyes and lungs. Such a combination with smoke canisters would create clouds of a chemical irritant that would cause tearing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that “tear gas” and “riot control agents” are terms that can be used interchangeably. On its connection, the agency also states that “pepper spray” is a “riot control agent.”

The American Civil Liberties Union, which is suing Trump and other federal officials for “unlawfully” firing chemicals on protesters, blasted the administration for “yet another lie” regarding police response that day.

“Video footage, evidence from the scene, and our clients’ injuries make clear that tear gas and other weapons were used unprovoked on demonstrators protesting police brutality outside the White House,” the organization wrote in a tweet Saturday.

Trump’s photo op prompted current military aides who walked with the president to the church, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper, to distance themselves from the event. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley on Thursday called it a “mistake” to accompany Trump.

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Former military aides, including former Pentagon Chief James Mattis, denounced the move as an abuse of power.

Noting his own oath to uphold the Constitution when he first joined the military, Mattis wrote in a statement to The Atlantic magazine, “Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens – much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

Contributing: Savannah Behrmann, Deirdre Shesgreen

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