White House stresses preparation for Baltimore protests

Washington (CNN)Attorney General Loretta Lynch was briefed about the building tension in Baltimore even before she was sworn in on Monday, a senior administration official said Tuesday.

Riots erupted in Charm City on Monday evening following the death of a young African-American man, Freddie Gray, while he was in police custody. The incident has inflamed local residents and harkened back to the community strife seen in Ferguson, Missouri, after a white cop shot and killed an unarmed black man.
The official on Tuesday stressed how prepared the Obama administration has been for the chaos in Baltimore, saying the White House has been carefully monitoring the developments 40 miles north of Washington for days.
    Senior White House and administration officials have been in touch with Baltimore counterparts since last week, but the Justice Department sensed local officials did not want the agency to intervene, according to the administration official.
    Valerie Jarrett, one of President Barack Obama's closest consiglieres, and her team have been in regular touch with civil rights leaders, and Jarrett spoke to mayors around the country on Tuesday.
    Justice Department officials Ron Davis and Vanita Gupta were also in Baltimore on Tuesday to meet with city officials. The White House also sent three officials on Monday to attend Gray's funeral.
    Obama waited until Tuesday to publicly address the protests, after he was briefed by Lynch and had spoken with Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, the administration official said.
    "When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they're not protesting. They're not making a statement. They're stealing. When they burn down a building, they're committing arson," Obama said at a White House press conference Tuesday.
    Obama also taped an interview with talk show host Steve Harvey -- which is scheduled to air Wednesday morning -- the official said. He has no plans to himself go to Baltimore at this time, according to the administration official.
    While the behind the scenes coordination may have been active, the public messaging from the White House on the situation in Baltimore was not always consistent.
    When Obama first addressed the issue, White House officials said they were waiting for a member of the media to ask a question on Baltimore before responding publicly. However, the President did not take questions at prior public events and the press was only allowed to take photos before the first Lynch and Obama meeting.
    Also, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest described the evolving situation in Baltimore as a "local issue" on Monday, just 24 hours before Obama used the incidents as an example of how the nation needed to do some "soul searching."