Trump says he’s considering pardon for Muhammad Ali, who doesn’t need one

President Donald Trump said Friday he was considering granting a posthumous pardon for Muhammad Ali — prompting a lawyer for his estate and family to say thanks, but no thanks: The boxing great had his criminal conviction overturned by the Supreme Court nearly 50 years ago.

Trump, who has issued several pardons and commutations in recent weeks, told reporters that he was “thinking about Muhammad Ali,” for a pardon.

“He was not very popular then, his memory is very popular now,” Trump said at the White House shortly before a departure for the G-7 summit in Quebec City, Canada. “I’m thinking about that very seriously.”

Not long after, an attorney for Ali’s estate and family responded, saying that a pardon wouldn’t be necessary.

“We appreciate President Trump’s sentiment, but a pardon is unnecessary. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Muhammad Ali in a unanimous decision in 1971,” Ron Tweel, who has represented Ali and his family since 1986, told NBC News. “There is no conviction from which a pardon is needed.”

But even though there is no Ali conviction on the books — the usual reason for a pardon — former DOJ pardon attorneys say it’s too limited to think of a pardon as simply a conviction eraser.

“A pardon is an act of forgiveness,” says former pardon attorney Samuel Morrison. “The pardon is for the conduct, regardless of whether there was or still is a conviction.”

For example, In 1977, President Jimmy Carter granted amnesty, which is a pardon for a group, to all Vietnam-era draft evaders, many of whom had never been convicted.

Ali, who died in 2016, was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison and stripped of his heavyweight boxing title after he refused, in 1967, to report for induction to fight in the Vietnam War, declaring himself a conscientious objector and citing his Muslim faith.

Ali appealed his conviction, allowing him to remain out of prison, and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction in 1971 in a unanimous decision that found the Department of Justice had improperly told the draft board that Ali’s stance wasn’t motivated by religious belief.

Even as his health declined, Ali did not shy from politics — or from criticizing Trump. In December 2015, he released a statement slamming then-candidate Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. “We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda,” Ali said.

Meanwhile, Trump, who recently pardoned Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champ, also said that he has a list of several thousand other names that he is reviewing for potential pardons.

Trump added that he was “looking at literally thousands of names.”

Trump has issued several pardons and commutations so far in his presidency.

In addition to his posthumous pardon last month of Johnson, the African-American boxing legend who was convicted under a law that was used as a deterrent to interracial dating, Trump has also issued pardons to conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to violating campaign finance laws; Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff who is a favorite of immigration hard-liners; I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the aide to former Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted of obstructing justice and lying to authorities during an investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame; and Kristian Mark Saucier, a Navy sailor who took photos of classified areas inside a nuclear submarine.

On Wednesday, Trump commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, who was serving life in prison on drug charges, after reality star Kim Kardashian West lobbied the president in an Oval Office meeting to intervene on her behalf.

Trump has also hinted at pardoning lifestyle and home merchandise mogul Martha Stewart, who was convicted in 2004 on charges related to insider stock trading, and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced in 2011 to 14 years in federal prison on corruption charges, including attempting to solicit bribes in exchange for President Barack Obama’s open Senate seat.

[NBC News]

Trump calls Russia probe ‘unconstitutional’

President Donald Trump is calling the special counsel Russia probe “totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”

Trump tweets on Monday: “The appointment of the Special Councel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL! Despite that, we play the game because I, unlike the Democrats, have done nothing wrong!”

Trump’s team has sought to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 election.

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani recently said the probe may need to be curtailed because, in his estimation, it was based on inappropriately obtained information from an informant and former FBI Director James Comey’s memos.

The FBI began a counterintelligence investigation in July 2016 to determine whether Trump campaign associates coordinated with Russia to tip the election. The investigation was opened after the emails were hacked from Democratic officials’ accounts and published; intelligence officials later formally attributed the breach to Russia.

[PBS]

Giuliani: Trump Could Have Shot Comey And Still Couldn’t Be Indicted For It

Candidate Donald Trump bragged that he could shoot someone on New York’s Fifth Avenue and not lose any support, and now President Donald Trump’s lawyer says Trump could shoot the FBI director in the Oval Office and still not be prosecuted for it.

“In no case can he be subpoenaed or indicted,” Rudy Giuliani told HuffPost Sunday, claiming a president’s constitutional powers are that broad. “I don’t know how you can indict while he’s in office. No matter what it is.”

Giuliani said impeachment was the initial remedy for a president’s illegal behavior ― even in the extreme hypothetical case of Trump having shot former FBI Director James Comey to end the Russia investigation rather than just firing him.

“If he shot James Comey, he’d be impeached the next day,” Giuliani said. “Impeach him, and then you can do whatever you want to do to him.”

Norm Eisen, the White House ethics lawyer under President Barack Obama and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the silliness of Giuliani’s claim illustrates how mistaken Trump’s lawyers are about presidential power.

“A president could not be prosecuted for murder? Really?” he said. “It is one of many absurd positions that follow from their argument. It is self-evidently wrong.”

Eisen and other legal scholars have concluded that the constitution offers no blanket protection for a president from criminal prosecution. “The foundation of America is that no person is above the law,” he said. “A president can under extreme circumstances be indicted, but we’re facing extreme circumstances.”

Giuliani’s comments came a day after The New York Times revealed that Trump’s lawyers in January made their case to special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump could not possibly have obstructed justice because he has the ability to shut down any investigation at any time.

“He could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry, or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired,” Jay Sekulow and John Dowd wrote in a 20-page letter. Dowd has since left Trump’s legal team, replaced by Giuliani.

The letter also admits that Trump “dictated” a statement that was then released by his son, Donald Trump Jr., regarding a meeting held at Trump Tower in June 2016 between top Trump campaign officials and Russians with links to that country’s spy agencies.

That meeting was scheduled after the Russians said they had damaging information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton that would be of use to the Trump campaign. The Trump-dictated statement falsely claimed the meeting was primarily about the adoption of Russian children by American families ― the same topic that Trump claimed had been the substance of a conversation he had had with Russian leader Vladimir Putin the previous evening in Germany.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded during the 2016 campaign that not only was Russia interfering in the U.S. election, but was actively trying to help Trump win.

Both Sekulow and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders claimed, falsely, that Trump had not dictated the statement, but had merely offered his son suggestions. Sanders on Sunday referred questions about the matter to Trump’s outside legal team.

Giuliani said Sekulow was misinformed about the Trump Tower meeting, which in any case was not that significant. “In this investigation, the crimes are really silly,” he said, arguing that the firing of Comey last year could not be construed as obstruction of justice because Trump had the right to fire him at any time and for any reason. “This is pure harassment, engineered by the Democrats.”

Comey had been leading the FBI probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence until his dismissal, which led to the appointment of Mueller to take it over. Within two days of the firing, Trump told both NBC News and Russian officials visiting him in the Oval Office that he had done it because of the investigation.

Eisen said Giuliani’s assertion, taken to its logical conclusion, would mean that a mob boss under investigation by the FBI could give Trump a bribe to fire the FBI director, Trump could explain on television that he had done so “because of this Mafia thing,” and then not face criminal charges.

“Well, of course it would be appropriate to initiate a prosecution,” he said. “I think the legally correct answer is, as usual, the opposite of Giuliani’s answer.”

Giuliani, once the mayor of New York City and prior to that the U.S. attorney there, took charge of Trump’s outside legal team in April, saying then that he planned to wrap the whole thing up within a few weeks. Now he said he is not sure when it will end because Mueller is taking too long and not turning over material to Giuliani ― such as a report of what was learned from an FBI informant who made contact with several members of the Trump campaign with links to Russia.

Giuliani said he has so far met with Trump about 10 times and spoken to him on the phone another 40 or so times, totaling at least 75 hours of conversation. “I’m not billing by the hour, otherwise I could tell you exactly,” he joked about the case he has taken on for free.

Mueller’s investigation has so far resulted in the guilty pleas of five people, including three former Trump campaign staffers, and the indictment of 14 other people and three companies. That total includes 13 Russians, Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and the Internet Research Agency, a “troll farm” that was used to create and disseminate propaganda to help Trump win.

A related investigation by Giuliani’s former U.S. attorney’s office is examining the dealings of longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. A former business partner has agreed to cooperate in that probe and plead to New York state charges.

[Huffington Post]

Trump lawyers’ secret memo argues president has complete control over federal investigations

Lawyers for President Donald Trump argued in a secret memo submitted to special counsel Robert Mueller III in January that Trump could not have obstructed the FBI‘s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election in part because, as president, he holds complete control over federal investigations.

The president has the power to “order the termination of an investigation by the Justice Department or FBI at any time and for any reason,” Trump lawyers John Dowd and Jay Sekulow argued in the letter to Mueller, which was published Saturday by the New York Times.

As the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, Trump could “even exercise his power to pardon if so desired,” they argued. A person familiar with the letter confirmed its authenticity.

The 20-page letter offered a sweeping assertion of the powers of the presidency as well as a detailed and robust defense of Trump’s actions in dealing with the unfolding Russia probe, including his firing of FBI Director James Comey in May 2017. It concluded that Trump’s actions were in keeping with the expansive powers of the presidency and could not constitute crimes.

Ultimately, Trump’s lawyers argued that the president should not be compelled to sit for an interview to assist Mueller’s effort, arguing that the White House provided full access to documents and interviews with other senior staff that was sufficient to answer Mueller’s questions about the Trump’s actions.

“The President’s prime function as the Chief Executive ought not be hampered by requests for interview. Having him testify demeans the Office of the President before the world,” they wrote.

The arguments parallel those that the president’s attorneys have pressed publicly for months, even as quiet negotiations over whether Trump might agree to sit voluntarily for an interview have continued. They help underscore the legal battle now underway between the White House and the special counsel. Should Mueller seek to compel Trump’s testimony with a subpoena, the arguments advanced in the letter could ultimately form the basis of a courtroom battle that would probably reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

After former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani replaced Dowd as Trump’s chief lawyer in March, he reopened negotiations with Mueller about forestalling that kind of public battle through a voluntary interview. Giuliani, at first, expressed confidence that he could resolve the matter within weeks.

But the debate has dragged on and, more recently, Giuliani has expressed wariness over having his client sit for an interview and said he would only agree if the special counsel’s office first turns over internal documents that shed light on the beginnings of the FBI’s probe in 2016, before Mueller’s appointment.

He told The Washington Post last week that Trump’s lawyers are drafting a letter to Mueller laying out those terms and that Jane and Marty Raskin, a husband-and-wife team from Florida assisting Trump’s defense, are in contact with Mueller’s office three times a week.

Mueller’s team has told the president’s lawyers that they think they have the power to issue Trump a subpoena and compel his testimony, but they have not yet sought to go down that route.

“They may do a subpoena. The subpoena would then be contested. That would be going on for months,” Giuliani said.

In a statement Saturday, Sekulow noted the consistency of Trump’s legal position while bemoaning the leaking of the internal document.

“We have maintained a consistent legal argument throughout the many months of this inquiry. Our legal team would not disclose internal communications with the office of special counsel. We continue to maintain cooperative relations with the office of special counsel,” he said.

Likewise, in a tweet sent shortly before the New York Times story was posted online, Trump questioned whether Mueller’s team might have been responsible for the leak. “Is the Special Counsel/Justice Department leaking my lawyers letters to the Fake News Media?” he asked.

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment.

The letter also provides new details about Trump’s actions in dealing with the Russia probe. For instance, his lawyers reveal that former national security adviser Michael Flynn twice told senior White House officials, including the vice president, before his firing in February 2017 that he had been informed that the FBI had closed its investigation into his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.

Comey has said that Trump asked him to let the case against Flynn go in an Oval Office meeting the day after Flynn’s firing. In their letter, Trump’s lawyers contested that account, but also argued that the president could not have been attempting to interfere in an investigation he was not aware was underway.

Trump’s lawyers also argued that the president could not have obstructed justice by firing Comey several months later. Trump’s decision to dismiss the FBI director was an appropriate use of presidential power intended to exert oversight over the bureau as a result of its missteps in the 2016 investigation of Hillary Clinton‘s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, they wrote.

They asserted that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is now supervising Mueller’s probe, “actually helped to edit” Trump’s letter terminating Comey and “actively advised the President accordingly.” At the time, Rosenstein also wrote his own memo criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton case.

Trump’s lawyers wrote that it would be “unthinkable” for a president acting under his constitutional authority and with the “overt participation” of his deputy attorney general to have obstructed justice.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.

In another episode Mueller has been probing, Trump’s lawyers conceded for the first time that in July 2017, Trump “dictated” a statement to be released on behalf of his son Donald Trump Jr. about a meeting that the son had taken with a Russian lawyer during the campaign.

The Post first reported in July that the president had authored his son’s statement, which misleadingly said the meeting was “primarily” about Russian adoptions. In fact, Donald Trump Jr. had accepted the meeting after being told the lawyer would provide dirt about Clinton.

In their letter, Trump’s lawyers contended that the statement was “short but accurate,” and a “private” matter to be hashed out between the president and the New York Times, which had requested the statement, rather than an issue for federal prosecutors.

[Chicago Tribune]

Reality

Read the letter here.

 

Trump slams due process: ‘We’re the only country that has judges’

Trump’s contempt for the rule of law was on full display when he mocked the very idea of due process for immigrants, and seemed to suggest ending immigration courts altogether.

In an interview that aired during Thursday morning’s “Fox & Friends,” host Brian Kilmeade pointed out that Trump’s crackdown has contributed to a monumental backlog in immigration courts.

“You need more judges,” Kilmeade said. “How close is that?”

“Think of it, we are the only country, essentially, that has judges,” Trump said. “They want to hire thousands of judges. Other countries have, it’s called security people. People that stand there and say ‘You can’t come in.

“We have thousands of judges, and they need thousands of more judges,” Trump said. “The whole system is corrupt, It’s horrible. So, yeah, you need thousands of judges based on this crazy system.”

“Who ever heard of a system where you put people through trials?” Trump asked. “Where do these judges come from? You know, a judge is a very special person. How do you hire thousands of people to be a judge? So, it’s ridiculous. We’re going to change the system. We have no choice for the good of our country.”

Trump’s ignorance of immigration courts is staggering, even by Trump’s standards. There are only just over three hundred immigration judges in the United States, and the number of new judges needed to address the backlog is between 200 and 250, not “thousands.”

And Trump is also wrong about the level of due process afforded in immigration courts, where the government is not required to provide legal counsel and, children often end up representing themselves in perfunctory proceedings.

But even worse than our current dysfunctional immigration courts is the prospect that Trump would try to do away with them, as he suggests.

Time and again, Trump has shown contempt for bedrock democratic concepts like free speech, freedom of the press, and an independent Justice Department. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have shown equal contempt for their own role as a check on the White House, which makes Trump’s despotic ruminations that much scarier.

[Shareblue]

Trump Rails Against ‘SPYGATE’ In Wild Tweetstorm After Watching Evidence-Free Fox & Friends Segment

President Donald Trump has ramped up his attacks on the Russia investigation — floating out baseless accusations that an FBI “spy” was dispatched for political purposes to sabotage his campaign and elect Hillary Clinton — and Fox & Friends is eagerly cheering him on.

Fox & Friends opened the show Wednesday morning with a laughably uncritical reading of Trump’s latest tweets, which apparently set off the president on another wild tweetstorm in which he declared the investigation into his campaign, “SPYGATE.”

On Fox News, Brian Kilmeade started by noting that the FBI sent informants to Trump’s campaign in 2016 “to maybe go in there and find out, probe around and see where the Russians had gained access to.”

“And now we know exactly why,” Steve Doocydeclared. “The president sent out a couple tweets, probably why you were sleeping. The reason why the federal government put the spies in there, was so Crooked Hillary would win.”

The hosts of Fox & Friends continued to speculate wildly about the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties, with Doocy and Kilmeade agreeing that the whole thing looks like a “set up.”

The cycle continued later in the morning, when Trump responded to his favorite morning show in another tweet — which blasted “worlds dumbest former Intelligence Head” James Clapper:

“Look how things have turned around on the Criminal Deep State,” Trump continued in his next tweet. “They go after Phony Collusion with Russia, a made up Scam, and end up getting caught in a major SPY scandal the likes of which this country may never have seen before!”

Trump also cited Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano, who appeared on Fox & Friends First and Fox Business Network Wednesday morning.

And, finally, we have a new word for this fresh shitshow… SPYGATE!

UPDATE: Matthew Gertz has the goods one where Trump’s quote came from… a Fox & Friends First chyron that — again, without a dash of evidence — boldly declared “NEW BOMBSHELL IN THE OBAMA SPYING SCANDAL”.

[Mediaite]

Trump: ‘Illegal’ and ‘disgrace’ if spies were on my campaign

President Trump said Tuesday it would be “illegal” and a “disgrace” if the FBI had spies embedded in his campaign.

“A lot of people are saying they had spies in my campaign. If they had spies in my campaign, that would be a disgrace to this country,” he said. “It would be very illegal, aside from everything else.”

“I hope they weren’t,” Trump added, because “that would be unprecedented in the history of our country.”

The comments come as Trump is escalating his attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has repeated conservative claims that federal law enforcement spied on his campaign, perhaps at the direction of senior leaders in the Obama administration, in an effort to sink his chances of winning the 2016 presidential election.

Media reports have said FBI agents used an informant to speak with a trio of Trump campaign advisers after the bureau heard they had suspicious contacts with Russia. There is no evidence a spy or mole was embedded in the Trump campaign.

Critics say Trump is using the allegations to muddy the waters in the Russia probe, which is looking into whether his campaign colluded with Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the election and if the president obstructed the probe.

Trump has repeated conservative claims that federal law enforcement spied on his campaign, perhaps at the direction of senior leaders in the Obama administration, in an effort to sink his chances of winning the 2016 presidential election.

Media reports have said FBI agents used an informant to speak with a trio of Trump campaign advisers after the bureau heard they had suspicious contacts with Russia. There is no evidence a spy or mole was embedded in the Trump campaign.

Critics say Trump is using the allegations to muddy the waters in the Russia probe, which is looking into whether his campaign colluded with Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the election and if the president obstructed the probe.

[The Hill]

Trump Goes Off: FBI ‘Spy’ on Campaign for ‘Political Reasons and to Help Crooked Hillary Win’

President Trump took to Twitter tonight to again go off on the FBI informant at the center of the latest political controversy concerning the Trump campaign.

On Sunday, Trump demanded the DOJ look into whether “the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”

Well, within just days of that tweet, the President has already reached some conclusions:

If the person placed very early into my campaign wasn’t a SPY put there by the previous Administration for political purposes, how come such a seemingly massive amount of money was paid for services rendered – many times higher than normal… Follow the money! The spy was there early in the campaign and yet never reported Collusion with Russia, because there was no Collusion. He was only there to spy for political reasons and to help Crooked Hillary win – just like they did to Bernie Sanders, who got duped!

[Mediaite]

Trump Denounces ‘Witch Hunt’ Again as He Touts Judge Who Criticized Mueller’s Office

President Donald Trump used his appearance at the National Rifle Association annual convention Friday to attack Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the investigation into possible Russia collusion during the 2016 campaign.

The president spoke at the gun lobby group’s annual gathering in Dallas, but while the event was about the 2nd Amendment and guns, the president apparently saw it as the perfect platform to go after America’s justice system. Trump specifically seized upon the news from earlier Friday, when a federal judge, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, voiced concern over the idea of a special counsel in general.

“It’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me the special counsel has unfettered power to do whatever he wants,” Judge T.S. Ellis told federal prosecutors during one of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort‘s first court appearances. The comment prompted speculation that, perhaps, Manafort’s charges, which include money laundering and tax evasion, could be dropped. Most experts, however, still say that’s unlikely.

Regardless, Trump took the judge’s remarks as a win. The president partially quoted an article from CNN, an outlet he says he regards as “fake news,” to the crowd of thousands gathered for the NRA annual convention in Dallas.

“Judge T.S. Ellis, who is really something special I hear from many standpoints – he is a respected person – suggested the charges before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia were just part of the Mueller team’s designs to pressure Mr. Manafort into giving up information on President Donald Trump or Russia’s involvement in the campaign,” Trump said, appearing to read from a separate news report.

“I’ve been saying that for a long time. It’s a witch hunt,” Trump said before tossing a piece of paper behind him.

“Then,” Trump continued reading, “none of that information has to do with information related to the Russian government or coordination with the campaign of Donald Trump.” The president kept quoting from an article, saying, “Then, ‘how does this have anything to do with the campaign?’ the judge asks.”

While I am no lawyer or legal expert, I have listened to and read the works of other highly regarded lawyers who say that even though the president and his team claim the money-related charges against Manafort are outside the scope of Mueller’s jurisdiction, the fact of the matter is that the crimes were still uncovered. Thus, they are prosecutable. To say that just because a possible crime was discovered as the result of an investigation into unrelated matters is to abandon the U.S. justice system and the rule of law, which Trump claims he wants to protect.

So long as the appropriate permissions were gathered to obtain evidence in a case (and I have no information to suggest those permissions were not granted in Manafort’s case), a legal charge such as the one against Manafort is valid. It may not be politically convenient. In fact, the Russia investigation is nothing short of a nightmare for the Trump administration. That said, the president cannot have it both ways. Either he supports the rule of law, whether or not it directly affects him and his presidency, or he doesn’t.

[Mediaite]

Trump Threatens to ‘Get Involved’ With the DOJ: ‘At Some Point I Will Have No Choice’

President Trump has once again weighed in on Republican concerns that the DOJ is not providing documents in a timely manner.

It’s gotten to the point where some Republicans have begun drafting articles of impeachment against Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein as a “last resort.” Rosenstein fired back yesterday by saying the DOJ will not be “extorted.”

And now the President himself is getting into this ongoing battle:

[Mediaite]

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