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Fact check: Trump falsely claims 'insurance reasons' prevented him from entering St. John's Church

CNN logo CNN 6/20/2020 By Daniel Dale, CNN
Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie standing in front of a building: US President Donald Trump holds up a bible in front of boarded up St John's Episcopal church after walking across Lafayette Park from the White House in Washington, DC on June 1, 2020. - US President Donald Trump was due to make a televised address to the nation on Monday after days of anti-racism protests against police brutality that have erupted into violence. The White House announced that the president would make remarks imminently after he has been criticized for not publicly addressing in the crisis in recent days. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) / ALTERNATE CROP (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images) © Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images US President Donald Trump holds up a bible in front of boarded up St John's Episcopal church after walking across Lafayette Park from the White House in Washington, DC on June 1, 2020. - US President Donald Trump was due to make a televised address to the nation on Monday after days of anti-racism protests against police brutality that have erupted into violence. The White House announced that the president would make remarks imminently after he has been criticized for not publicly addressing in the crisis in recent days. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) / ALTERNATE CROP (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

More than two weeks after his controversial photo-op outside a Washington, DC, church, President Donald Trump offered a new explanation last week for why he didn't enter St. John's Episcopal Church. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday Trump said there were "a lot of insurance reasons" for why he couldn't go in.

That isn't true.

Facts First: "There were no insurance reasons" why Trump could not have entered St. John's Church, Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington told CNN on Friday. She said only a small room in the basement of the church, a nursery, had been damaged in a fire the day prior, and "the main sanctuary was not harmed at all."

Trump has faced criticism not only because police used force to clear peaceful protesters out of the way before the photo-op but because he merely brandished the Bible without opening it, offering a prayer, or going into the building.

Asked by the Wall Street Journal in a Wednesday interview why he didn't pray, Trump said it was "very, very noisy" outside because of the protesters. He added: "And I didn't think it was exactly the right time to pray. I'm on the sidewalk. And the church itself, I didn't want to go in because they had a lot of insurance reasons. You know, the church was boarded up."

Budde said there was no conversation between Trump's team and church leaders before Trump showed up at the church, which is located a short walk from the White House. Presidents "usually call in advance" when they are going to come, she said.

Budde said she had herself been inside the church after the fire, to inspect the damage. She said the church was closed to the public at the time of Trump's arrival, but "no, there were no insurance reasons why he couldn't go in."

"Of course, he didn't ask -- he didn't tell us he was coming, so there was no way to prepare," she said. "There was nothing in his posture that indicated he was coming to the church to engage with us. There was no engagement."

Trump continued in the Wall Street Journal interview to baselessly blame the peaceful protesters who were present before the Monday photo-op for the fire that police say had been set at the church the previous night.

"The protesters, who, the day before tried to burn down the church," Trump said. "You know, everyone was saying, 'Oh, they were so wonderful.' They weren't wonderful. They tried to burn down the church. And it was, they told me, the same group. A similar group."

Nobody has been charged for the fire. We don't know what Trump was "told," but there is no evidence that any of the peaceful Monday protesters, much less all of them, were responsible.

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