By The Washington Post · Meagan Flynn, Tom Jackman, Ben Guarino · NATIONAL, COURTSLAW, RACE
"This is a modern-day night ride, and everybody knows it," St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, said in an interview with The Washington Post, referring to the terroristic forays of the Ku Klux Klan into African American neighborhoods in the 19th and 20th centuries. "And for a president to participate in it, in the larger context of racism and cronyism, is scary."
Mark and Patricia McCloskey, a white couple who say they were afraid for their lives as protesters marched through their neighborhood on June 28, pointed guns at the multiracial group of demonstrators - an incident that politicians and commentators have made a focal point of the nation's culture war. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Tuesday that Trump would be "getting involved" in the case of the St. Louis couple, who are under review for potential criminal charges.
Both the president and Republican governor have offered impassioned defenses of Mark and Patricia McCloskey, who went viral after brandishing guns at protesters on the private street outside their mansion.
Parson, who said the couple had "every right to protect their property," said he spoke with Trump just before the governor's coronavirus news briefing this week. He said Trump made it clear he "doesn't like what he sees and the way these people are being treated," referencing the McCloskeys.
He said Attorney General William Barr "was represented on the call," and he thinks the president and the attorney general "are going to take a look" at the McCloskeys' case.
"The president said that he would do everything he could within his powers to help with this situation and he would be taking action to do that," Parson said.
Gardner, St. Louis's first black chief prosecutor, accused Trump and Parsons of playing politics with a local criminal investigation, but said she couldn't comment on the McCloskey case, which is an open investigation. No charges have been filed.
Elected four years ago on a platform to reform the justice system in St. Louis, Gardner said she began receiving threats and insults even before she took office. The abuse ramped up when she moved to release nonviolent offenders from jail at the outset of the pandemic, she said. It further intensified since the McCloskey incident, with what she called a coordinated attack by Trump and Parson.
Gardner shared emails and social media messages she had received, some from outside St. Louis, with vile and racist language. "It is YOU who are the racist, unfairly targeting white McCloskeys for exercising their 2nd Amendment rights," wrote one emailer, "while your people stormed their property. U really need to be run out of town you black b----!"
She said a note was left on her car saying, "I hope you hang from a tree."
Trump, in a Tuesday interview with conservative news website Townhall, said any attempt to prosecute the couple for a crime would be a "disgrace."
Earlier in the day, Trump also scoffed at a question about black people dying at the hands of law enforcement - a focus of the protests - by pointing out police also kill white people. He recently described BLM as a "symbol of hate" and has called for protecting Confederate monuments, painting those seeking to topple statues with racist histories as violent mobs.
In his news conference, Parson did not offer any details about how the president would be "getting involved" in a case in which the federal government has no jurisdiction. Federal intervention in a state criminal investigation would be unusual and legally questionable depending on the assistance Parson is seeking. Representatives for the Justice Department could not be immediately reached.
"I have no statement or comment at this time," Joel Schwartz, the criminal defense attorney who represents the couple, told The Post on Wednesday when asked about the president's involvement in the case.
Schwartz, who has previously maintained there is no basis for criminal charges against the McCloskeys, told the Associated Press last weekend that police had executed a search warrant and seized the gun the man brandished last month. Police also seized the handgun, which Schwartz said was inoperable, held by Patricia McCloskey.
During a Tuesday interview with journalist Casey Nolen, of local NBC-affiliate news station 5 On Your Side, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Chief John Hayden said the department has turned over an "unlawful use of a weapon" case to the St. Louis circuit attorney's office.
The attorney told Forbes that dozens of people, including the owner of a Missouri gun store, offered to donate new weapons to the couple. They have declined those offers, the defense lawyer said.
The McCloskeys - who have a history of suing their neighbors, family members, employers and others over a wide spectrum of disputes, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch found - have said they feared for their lives when more than 100 protesters, who were headed to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson's home, walked onto their private street. The protesters have acknowledged trespassing on the private street but deny damaging any property; the McCloskeys claimed they broke their gate.
In interviews with Fox News and CNN, the couple painted the protesters as a mob of "terrorists" intent on killing them, burning down their home and ransacking it, although there is no evidence the protesters attempted to do so.
On Tuesday, Trump adopted their side of the story, defending the couple while mirroring claims the couple made about imminent death and destruction.
"They were going to be beat up badly if they were lucky. If they were lucky," the president said of the McCloskeys in an interview with Townhall's Katie Pavlich. "They were going be beat up badly, and the house was going to be totally ransacked and probably burned down like they tried to burn down churches.
"And these people were standing there, never used it and they were legal, the weapons. And now I understand somebody local, they want to prosecute these people. It's a disgrace," Trump said.
Parson views Gardner's investigation as an affront to the Second Amendment, saying he believed the couple was legally allowed to brandish the firearms under the state's "castle doctrine," Missouri's version of stand-your-ground laws that allow property owners to use force against intruders who cause the owners fear of imminent harm.
The governor on Tuesday suggested he wanted Gardner removed from office, saying the state legislature should consider ways to remove local elected officials in future legislative sessions.
"We've got to explain to him why it's very difficult for an elected official in this state, for a governor, to remove somebody from office, or what powers you have as a governor," Parson said of Trump at the briefing. "I don't want to make it sound like he's going to come in and remove somebody from office, but I'll guarantee you that the president's focused on what's happening here."
Gardner said Missouri officials and Trump "are all using their political platforms to tell a locally elected prosecutor what to do. That is dangerous ... Why is it okay to dehumanize me, to put my life, my office's life, as well as my family, in danger?"
She said that Parson, running for reelection, asked Trump to speak out about the case to energize Parson voters.