Republican senator, swarmed by protesters after Trump speech, calls for FBI probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Senator Rand Paul on Friday called on the FBI to investigate a crowd of protesters that swarmed him as he departed the White House after listening to U.S. President Donald Trump accept his party’s nomination for re-election.

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Paul told Fox News Channel he believes the group chanting his name and pushing against his impromptu police escort was paid to incite a riot. He did not say who he believes financially backed them or offer any evidence for his contention.

“I believe there are going to be people who were involved with the attack on us that actually were paid to come here and are not from Washington, D.C., and are sort of paid to be anarchists,” Paul said. “The FBI needs to investigate but the only way you can do it is you have to arrest people.”

Trump on Friday called the protesters “thugs.”

Addressing supporters in Manchester, New Hampshire, Trump said people attending his speech at the White House on Thursday night “walked out to a bunch of thugs ... That wasn’t friendly protesters. They were thugs.”

“He’d either be in very bad shape, or dead, and that would include his wife, if those policemen didn’t happen to be there,” Trump said of Paul, while also accusing the Democratic mayor of Washington, Muriel Bowser, of giving police “bad instructions.”

Paul, his wife and two guests scrapped plans to walk to their hotel near the White House after Trump’s speech to the Republican convention when they saw large crowds demonstrating.

Instead, they rode a bus with others to the Trump International Hotel and then attempted to take an Uber back. When protesters blocked the car, they walked. Demonstrators recognized Paul and immediately drew close. His group then found police for protection.

Video posted online shows a crowd surrounding Paul and his wife and the police. One man yells repeatedly, “say her name,” a reference to Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed by police in March in Kentucky, the state that Paul represents.

One officer appears to use his bicycle to push a protester and stumbles into Paul after the protester shoves him. At no point does it show Paul being physically attacked.

Paul said protesters also threatened “to f you up” and “to kill you.”

Convention attendees could hear hundreds of anti-Trump protesters gathered just beyond the White House gates shouting and blowing horns as Trump spoke. As some attendees left, they were confronted by masked demonstrators, social media postings show.

Republican Representative Brian Mast shared a video of protesters stopping him outside the White House, where one repeatedly shouts, “What do you think about police killing Black people in this country?” and drowns out his answers.

Fellow Representative Jim Jordan told Fox the demonstrations were so thick when he left the White House that he decided to get a ride with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who had Capitol Police protection.

Lafayette Square, across from the White House, was the site of protests earlier this summer, following the police killings of Taylor and African-American George Floyd. Washington’s local government later changed the name of the street leading to it to Black Lives Matter Plaza.

Reporting by Lisa Lambert, additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Manchester, New Hampshire, and Ann Maria Shibu in Bengaluru; Editing by Michael Perry, Rosalba O’Brien and Sonya Hepinstall