Trump Trashes WaPo, Denies Report He Promised Pardons to Officials If They Broke Law to Build the Wall

President Donald Trump blasted the Washington Post on Twitter this afternoon over reporting that he promised pardons to officials who would have to break the law to get the border wall done.

The Post reported Trump is frustrated with the pace of progress and desperate to get the wall built ahead of the 2020 election, and so he dismissed concerns about eminent domain, telling people to “take the land” and if they get in trouble “don’t worry, I’ll pardon you.”

Trump denied the report and claimed the Post made it up “in order to demean and disparage”:

A White House official responded to the Post saying that “Trump is joking when he makes such statements about pardons.”

[Mediaite]

Trump’s Unpardonable Admission About His Border Wall

Disagreements about what the law really means are unavoidable. Congress passes laws, government agencies interpret them, advocates dispute those interpretations, and then the courts step in to resolve the arguments.

But that’s not what’s happening with President Trump’s latest push on his border wall. The Washington Post reports that Trump is frantically urging aides to get construction on his border wall underway, overriding their objections that this might require breaking environmental laws, violating contracting rules, or improperly claiming private land. Why? Not because he believes his wall is necessary for national security. Not because he believes he is right about the law, and his aides’ concerns are misplaced. He doesn’t even believe the wall will actually solve an immigration crisis. Trump is urging action on the wall because he believes it is necessary for him to win reelection.

The tell here is that, as the Post reports, Trump “has told worried subordinates that he will pardon them of any potential wrongdoing should they have to break laws to get the barriers built quickly, those officials said.”

Running for office, Trump said he would build a wall and Mexico would pay for it, a claim he quickly abandoned. When Congress repeatedly refused to give him money for the wall, he mounted an end-run around Congress, declaring a national emergency. Because Congress has unwisely delegated some of its powers to the president through the National Emergencies Act, he may succeed in defeating legal challenges, since courts tend to give the executive wide latitude to determine what is and isn’t a national emergency.

But Trump keeps undermining the legal rationale for his action. As the Postreports:

Trump conceded last year in an immigration meeting with lawmakers that a wall or barrier is not the most effective mechanism to curb illegal immigration, recognizing it would accomplish less than a major expansion of U.S. enforcement powers and deportation authority. But he told lawmakers that his supporters want a wall and that he has to deliver it.

Other Trump moves also show how unseriously he treats the idea that the wall is a necessary response to a national emergency, and not an enormously expensive campaign prop. He has repeatedly overruled suggestions made by officials because he wants the wall to look a certain way. Trump insists that the wall be painted black and be topped with spikes, even though this will add to the expense, reducing the number of miles that current funds can be used to build. And although the Department of Homeland Security favors including flat panels that can deter climbers, Trump thinks they look too ugly.

This is part of a pattern: Trump declares some far-fetched objective. Administration lawyers concoct a tortured legal rationale to justify it. And then Trump makes clear how pretextual that rationale is. Perhaps the first example was the president’s Muslim ban, but the pattern has repeated itself ever since.

The dangled pardons are especially galling because they underscore how Trump prioritizes winning reelection at any cost over actually following the laws he swore to uphold in his oath of office. Asked about the pardon suggestion by the Post, a White House aide didn’t deny it, but “said Trump is joking when he makes such statements about pardons.”

Well, maybe. The Trump administration has a long record of making outrageous statements and then insisting after the fact that they were only kidding. Beyond that, the president has already on at least one occasionpromised a pardon to a Customs and Border Patrol official if he was convicted of a crime, and he has also demonstrated his willingness to hand out politically motivated, manifestly undeserved pardons.

Pushing hard to build a border wall carries other dangers for Trump. Though he has had great success in reorienting the Republican Party around some of his other priorities, especially trade, eminent domain remains a controversial and widely disliked maneuver that could alienate conservatives along the border. But the president may be right that actually building the wall is crucial for his reelection effort, and his failure to actually build a single mile of new fencing—as opposed to upgrading current barriers—is a huge political problem for him.  (Even the hurry-up effort described in the Post is relatively insignificant: Only 110 of the 450 miles officials say they’ll finish by Election Day 2020 are new, while the rest replaces existing fencing.)

Trump is not the first president willing to knowingly break the law to win reelection. He is, however, unusually open about it. If the wall gambit works, it will reinforce the idea that lawbreaking is an effective campaign tactic, and that politics comes before fidelity to the Constitution.

The real threat to the national security of the United States isn’t on the southern side of the Mexican border.

[The Atlantic]

Trump says he’s ‘very strongly’ considering commuting Rod Blagojevich’s sentence

President Trump on Wednesday said he’s “very strongly” considering commuting the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), who is serving 14 years on federal corruption charges.

“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly,” the president told reporters on Air Force One en route back to Washington, D.C., after visiting the sites of recent mass shootings.

“His wife I think is fantastic and I’m thinking about commuting his sentence very strongly,” Trump added. “I think it’s enough, seven years.”

Blagojevich was removed from office in 2009 and was later convicted of a wide array of corruption charges, including trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat after he was elected president in 2008. The former governor began serving a 14-year prison sentence in 2012.

“I’ve got this thing, and it’s f—— golden. I’m just not giving it up for f—— nothing,” Blagojevich said of Obama’s Senate seat in a recorded phone call.

Trump on Wednesday downplayed Blagojevich’s conduct on the call, chalking it up to “braggadocio.”

“He’s been in jail for seven years over a phone call where nothing happens — over a phone call which he shouldn’t have said what he said, but it was braggadocio you would say,” Trump said. “I would think that there have been many politicians — I’m not one of them by the way — that have said a lot worse over the telephone.”

Trump noted that former FBI Director James Comey — a frequent target of criticism for the president — worked the case to convict Blagojevich. Comey was the FBI’s attorney general at the time of the case.

The president floated a commutation for Blagojevich last year, but has yet to take action. The two men knew each previously from when the former governor appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Numerous Illinois political figures have in recent years voiced support for commuting Blagojevich’s sentence, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D) and Rev. Jesse Jackson.

[The Hill]

Trump offers to guarantee ASAP Rocky’s bail in Sweden

President Trump said he spoke with Sweden’s prime minister Saturday about jailed rapper ASAP Rocky and “offered to personally vouch for his bail.”

Trump tweeted that during a “a very good call” with Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, he also “assured him that A$AP was not a flight risk.” The platinum-selling, Grammy-nominated artist has been in custody since early this month over an alleged fight.

Urged on by the first lady and celebrities including Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West, the president had said in a Friday tweet that he would intervene to try to free Rocky, whose real name is Rakim May.

“Our teams will be talking further, and we agreed to speak again in the next 48 hours!” Trump wrote Saturday after speaking with Lofven.

Lofven said in a statement earlier Saturday that he would be glad to speak with Trump about ASAP Rocky’s detention but that his government “cannot and will not attempt to influence prosecutors or courts.”

“I understand that President Trump has a personal interest in the case …. He has expressed the desire for a conversation with me, which is certainly positive,” Lofven said. “I will explain that the Swedish judicial system is independent. In Sweden, everyone is equal before the law, and this includes visitors from other countries.”

Rocky has been behind bars while Swedish police investigate the fight in Stockholm he was allegedly involved in before appearing at a music festival. Videos published on social media appear to show a person being violently thrown onto the ground by Rocky. A defense lawyer has said Rocky acted in self-defense.

Other recording artists have also spoken out on his behalf, including Sean “Diddy” Combs, Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes, Nicki Minaj and Post Malone.

[Los Angeles Times]

Trump requests paperwork to pardon accused US war criminals

President Donald Trump has requested paperwork allowing him to move forward quickly with pardons for accused US war criminals, The New York Times reported Saturday.

The pardons from a President who on the campaign trail expressed support for “tougher” tactics than waterboarding and going after the families of terrorists could come “on or around Memorial Day,” two US officials told the Times.

One military official told the Times that the White House made its request to the Justice Department on Friday, and that while pardon files typically take months to assemble, the Justice Department had stressed the files needed to be completed before the coming Memorial Day weekend.

The Times said those who could potentially receive clemency include a Navy SEAL who is facing trial for shooting unarmed civilians and murdering a wounded person, along with a range of others accused or convicted of shooting or killing unarmed civilians.

Trump previously expressed sympathy for Eddie Gallagher, the Navy SEAL in question, in a March tweet saying he would be moved to “less restrictive confinement” ahead of his trial.

“In honor of his past service to our Country, Navy Seal #EddieGallagher will soon be moved to less restrictive confinement while he awaits his day in court. Process should move quickly! @foxandfriends @RepRalphNorman,” Trump tweeted.

Gallagher was charged last year for the various violent incidents in Iraq during 2017.

On the campaign trail, Trump implied he would support torturing detainees as president, and after significant pushback for his enthusiastic comments about waterboarding and killing the families of terrorists, he reversed the position in a statement. But just days after taking the oath of office, Trump again expressed support for torture and said he “absolutely” believed it works.

Trump’s potential pardons for accused and convicted war criminals, if issued, would mark the latest gesture from the US President toward a change in standards for US war efforts and treatment of detainees that he intimated on the campaign trail.

Earlier this month, Trump pardoned Michael Behenna, a former Army soldier who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing a detainee he drove into the Iraqi desert and shot twice. In April, the Trump administration revoked the visa for the chief prosecutor on the International Criminal Court, and a spokesperson said at the time that the US would take necessary steps “to protect our people from unjust investigation.”

The ICC, which the US is not a member of, sought authorization previously to open an investigation into crimes committed by US troops in Afghanistan.

[CNN]

Trump Pardons Ex-Newspaper Publisher Conrad Black, Author of a Super-Flattering Book About POTUS Last Year

President Donald Trump has pardoned a media mogul who just so happened to author a book gushing about the Trump presidency.

Conrad Black‘s international media empire once included the Chicago Sun-Times, Britain’s Daily Telegraph and the Jerusalem Post.

He was also found guilty of taking money from the newspapers’ profits.

Reuters reports:

“[Black]was found guilty in the United States in 2007 of scheming to siphon off millions of dollars from the sale of newspapers owned by Hollinger Inc, where he was chief executive and chairman.

Two of his three fraud convictions were later voided, and his sentence was shortened. He was released from a Florida prison in May 2012 and deported from the United States.

Black was born in Canada and is a British citizen.

The White House’s statement refers to Black with his courtesy title of Lord and claims high-profile people “vigorously vouched” for Black, including Rush Limbaugh.

“Lord Black’s case has attracted broad support from many high-profile individuals who have vigorously vouched for his exceptional character” the White House statement read.

The statement continued on: “This impressive list includes former Secretary of State Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Sir Elton JohnRush Limbaugh, the late William F. Buckley, Jr., and many additional notable individuals.”

[Mediaite]

Trump pardons ex-soldier convicted of killing Iraqi prisoner

President Trump on Monday signed an executive grant of clemency, a full pardon, to a former Army first lieutenant convicted of murdering an Iraqi prisoner.

The White House released a statement announcing Trump’s decision to pardon Michael Behenna, who was sentenced in 2009 to 15 years for shooting and killing Ali Mansur Mohamed. The move comes after repeated requests from Oklahoma’s attorney general for Trump to pardon Behenna. 

“Mr. Behenna’s case has attracted broad support from the military, Oklahoma elected officials, and the public,” the White House said, noting that more than two dozen generals and admirals as well as numerous Oklahoma officials have expressed support for Behenna, who hails from the state. The statement added that Behenna has been “a model prisoner.”

“In light of these facts, Mr. Behenna is entirely deserving of this Grant of Executive Clemency,” the statement read.

Prosecutors argued Behenna shot and killed Mansur, an alleged al Qaeda operative, in the desert in 2008 in retaliation for an improvised explosive device (IED) attack. Mansur had previously been ordered released because of a lack of evidence of his connection to the terrorist group, and Behenna reportedly killed him while returning him to his hometown after attempting to question him about the IED attack.

Behenna was paroled in 2014 and was to remain on parole until 2024 prior to the pardon. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter (R) recently petitioned the Trump administration to pardon the Oklahoma native, writing to Attorney General William Barr in April that Behenna was convicted because of improper jury instructions and because prosecutors did not turn over evidence bolstering his claim of self-defense. Hunter had previously petitioned for the pardon in February 2018.

“I commend President Trump’s decision to grant a full pardon for Mr. Behenna,” Hunter said in a statement Monday evening. “Mr. Behenna served his country with distinction, honor and sacrifice. He has admitted to his mistakes, has learned from them and deserves to move on from this incident without living under its cloud for the rest of his life.”

“My hope is that Michael and the rest of his family can rest easy this evening knowing they can put this tragic situation behind them.”

[The Hill]

Trump told CBP head he’d pardon him if he were sent to jail for violating immigration law

During President Donald Trump’s visit to the border at Calexico, California, a week ago, where he told border agents to block asylum seekers from entering the US contrary to US law, the President also told the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, Kevin McAleenan, that if he were sent to jail as a result of blocking those migrants from entering the US, the President would grant him a pardon, senior administration officials tell CNN.

Two officials briefed on the exchange say the President told McAleenan, since named the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, that he “would pardon him if he ever went to jail for denying US entry to migrants,” as one of the officials paraphrased.

It was not clear if the comment was a joke; the official was not given any further context on the exchange.The White House referred CNN to the Department of Homeland Security. A DHS spokesman told CNN, “

At no time has the President indicated, asked, directed or pressured the Acting Secretary to do anything illegal. Nor would the Acting Secretary take actions that are not in accordance with our responsibility to enforce the law.”

[CNN]

Trump Says Pardon for Paul Manafort is ‘Not Off the Table’

President Donald Trump declined in a new interview to rule out the possibility that he could pardon Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman.

“It was never discussed, but I wouldn’t take it off the table. Why would I take it off the table?” Trump told the New York Post.

The President’s comments come following special counsel Robert Mueller’s accusation that Manafort violated his plea agreement and lied to Mueller’s team after being found guilty on eight counts of financial crimes in August.

[CNN]

Trump Calls Manafort ‘Good Person’ and Criticizes Fraud Trial

President Donald Trump called his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort a “very good person” and criticized his trial on bank fraud and money laundering charges, as a jury began a second day of deliberations on a verdict.

“I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad,” Trump told reporters Friday before departing the White House for a fundraiser in New York. “I think it is a very sad day for our country. He worked for me for a very short period of time. But, you know what, he happens to be a very good person. And I think it’s very sad what they’ve done to Paul Manafort.”

Trump declined to say whether he would pardon his former aide if convicted. Yet, his commentary about an ongoing criminal case before a jury marks a sharp departure from presidential norms guarding against political interference with the judicial process.

Manafort is the first person to be tried as a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. Mueller’s prosecutors have alleged that Manafort, before joining Trump’s campaign, for years hid millions of dollars in income earned from pro-Russia clients in Ukraine in foreign bank accounts while fraudulently obtaining bank loans to support an opulent lifestyle.

The charges Manafort faces are unrelated to his work for Trump’s campaign. Trump has repeatedly denied his campaign colluded with Russian efforts to manipulate the outcome of the election and regularly calls Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt.”

[Bloomberg]

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