WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Wednesday he went to an underground bunker at the White House last week to inspect it, not because of security concerns over protests outside the executive mansion’s gates.
Trump dismissed as “false” reports that the Secret Service rushed him into the bunker Friday night as protests inspired by the death of George Floyd escalated across the street.
“I went down during the day, and I was there for a tiny little short period of time,” he said during an interview with radio host Brian Kilmeade. “It was much more for an inspection. There was no problem during the day.”
Multiple news outlets – including CNN and The New York Times – reported that Trump was briefly moved to the White House’s underground bunker Friday night as a precaution while tensions escalated in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House.
Trump went down to the bunker at the behest of the Secret Service in an abundance of caution, said one official familiar with the incident, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. The official said he was only in the bunker for a short period of time.
Asked by Kilmeade if the Secret Service told him he needed to head to the bunker, Trump said, “No, they didn’t tell me that at all. They said it would be a good time to go down, take a look because maybe some time you’re going to need it.”
Trump also claimed he went to the bunker during the day before the protests escalated.
“There was never a problem,” he said. “We never had a problem. Nobody ever came close to giving us a problem. The Secret Service, it does an unbelievable job of maintaining control in the White House.”
The bunker reports preceded Trump’s much-criticized walk from the White House to nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church on Monday.
Trump wanted to pay his respects to St. John’s, which suffered minor damage when it was burned by protesters Sunday, but he also wanted to leave the White House grounds to prove he was not “in the bunker” because of the protesters, said one official who requested anonymity to discuss the president’s communications strategy.
Critics hammered Trump for the St. John’s visit because police used smoke canisters, pepper spray and shields on protesters in Lafayette Park, clearing a path for the president to walk to the historic church.
Church officials protested that Trump did not call them about his plans to visit the church. Mariann Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, which includes St. John’s, said she was outraged by the use of force to get people out of the way for a photo op.
Trump defended his visit to the church, saying he did not ask law enforcement officials to clear out Lafayette Park in advance.
“I didn’t say, oh, move them out – I didn’t know who was there,” he said.
Trump called his visit to St. John’s “very symbolic” and said “many religious leaders loved it.”
“Why wouldn’t they love it?” he said. “I’m standing in front of a church that went through trauma, to put it mildly.”