President Trump waded deeper Thursday into the legal procedures ahead for the suspect in the New York City terrorist attack, saying he wishes he could ship him off to Guantanamo Bay and urging for the death penalty.
The series of tweets, which began shortly after midnight, staked out a White House position well ahead of the courts. It also sharply broke with long-held traditions of senior public officials holding back comments that could appear to undermine the legal process and possibly complicate proceedings.
In an early morning tweet, Trump wrote that he “would love” to send the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, to the military-run detention site at Guantánamo, but lamented it might take “longer than going through the Federal system.” Trump also repeated his call for Saipov to face capital punishment.
“Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantánamo but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the Federal system,” Trump wrote.
“There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed,” Trump added moments later. “Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!”
Hours earlier, Trump expressed outrage at reports that Saipov asked for the Islamic State flag to be hung in the hospital room where he was treated for gunshot wounds during his capture by police after Tuesday’s rampage.
“NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room. He killed 8 people, badly injured 12. SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!” Trump wrote.
His tweet deviated from an unwritten rule that presidents shouldn’t express themselves on the outcome of pending criminal cases. Public comments that someone is guilty or should be punished in a certain way can and do play into the hands of defense lawyers if and when cases go to trial.
The lawyers for Bowe Bergdahl, who deserted his base in Afghanistan in 2009, argued unsuccessfully that candidate-Trump’s comment that he was a “traitor” would taint any trial. While a military judge said Trump’s comments were “disturbing,” he did not feel it necessary to dismiss the case. Bergdahl ultimately pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
Eight people were killed and a dozen injured on Tuesday when Saipov, a 29-year-old Uzbek immigrant, drove a rented truck into people walking and cycling on a New York City bike path, federal authorities claim. Authorities charged Saipov with providing support to a terrorist organization, alleging the Islamic State inspired him to carry out the attack.
“In court papers, federal authorities said that Sayfullo Saipov told the FBI that he began planning his attack a year ago, though he settled on using a truck as a weapon only two months prior,” The Washington Post reported.
The tweet was one of many from Trump since the attack in New York.
After the attack, Trump wrote several tweets calling for tougher vetting processes of immigrants, in particular calling for an end to the State Department program known as the Diversity Visa Lottery. In several of these, he tweeted at the Fox News show “Fox & Friends.”
He also attacked Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who in 1990 introduced the House bill that helped create the visa program, in an open effort to associate Schumer with the attack.
Brian Murphy contributed to this report.
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