President Donald Trump was briefed by Attorney General William Barr on Thursday on the status of a federal investigation into the death of a black man in Minnesota whose violent arrest at the hands of a white officer has sparked calls for criminal charges, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.
The briefing comes one day after Trump announced that he had ordered an expedited inquiry to be conducted by the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. On Wednesday, Trump said the agencies were “already well into an investigation as to the very sad and tragic death in Minnesota of George Floyd.”
Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis on Monday has so far led to the firing of the four police officers who were involved in his arrest and prompted a wave of protests in the city, the state’s largest. Tape of the arrest shows Floyd handcuffed and crying out that he cannot breathe as a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneels on his neck.
McEnany told reporters at a press briefing on Thursday that Trump watched the video and was “very upset by it.”
“It was egregious. Appalling. Tragic,” McEnany said. “And it prompted him to pick up the phone, or the chief of staff to pick up the phone, and say, ‘We need to expedite what was already an FBI investigation.”
David Bowdich, the deputy director of the FBI, also participated in the briefing, McEnany said.
The Justice Department and the FBI put out a joint statement earlier in the day announcing that the investigation was a “top priority.”
“The federal investigation will determine whether the actions by the involved former Minneapolis Police Department officers violated federal law,” the statement said. “It is a violation of federal law for an individual acting under color of law to willfully deprive another person of any right protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”
Anger over the arrest spawned a wave of protests in Minneapolis this week that has led to at least one death, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a local outlet. Dozens of businesses were looted or torched, the newspaper reported. Mayor Jacob Frey called in the National Guard to help manage the situation.
Benjamin Crump, an attorney representing Floyd’s family, has urged activists to protest peacefully.
“We cannot sink to the level of our oppressors and endanger each other as we respond to the necessary urge to raise our voices in unison and in outrage,” Crump wrote in a post on Twitter on Thursday. “Looting and violence distract from strength of our collective voice.”