The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

President Trump told Sweden to #FreeRocky. Stockholm reminded him of the rule of law.

Rapper A$AP Rocky was arrested and detained after an alleged street fight in Sweden on June 30. Celebrities, President Trump and more have rallied around him. (Video: The Washington Post)

BERLIN — President Trump’s repeated calls for Sweden to give detained rapper A$AP Rocky “his FREEDOM” have been seen by Swedes as a baffling and inappropriate attempt to undermine the rule of law in their country — and a cynical ploy by Trump to deflect from his own issues with race at home.

For nearly a week, Trump has been posting Twitter messages in support of Rocky, who is detained in connection with an alleged assault in Stockholm. The tweets have alternated between flattering Sweden’s prime minister and criticizing him for not taking action on behalf of the rapper.

On Thursday, Trump struck a nerve among Swedes when he implied the rapper’s race was a factor in Swedish authorities bringing charges against Rocky.

“Sweden has let our African American Community down in the United States,” Trump wrote.

But Merrick Tabor, a political scientist at Stockholm University, said he viewed Trump’s focus on Sweden as a way to distract from his own recent racist attacks on four Democratic congresswomen, whom he had urged to “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came."

Trump’s attempts to influence a Swedish criminal investigation, Tabor said, were unsurprising for a president “who does what he finds opportune for himself, regardless of how a legal system is supposed to operate."

“Even if he understood — which he probably does on some level — that it would be inappropriate for the (Swedish) prime minister to get involved, he really doesn’t care,” Tabor said.

A$AP Rocky enters not guilty plea as assault trial begins in Sweden

A spokesman for the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven rejected Trump’s criticism.

“Sweden and Prime Minister Stefan Löfven have explained and emphasized to the White House and President Trump respectively, the complete independence of the Swedish judicial system, prosecutors and courts,” Mikael Lindström, acting press secretary, wrote in a statement to The Washington Post.

“In Sweden everyone is equal before the law. The Government is not allowed, and will not attempt, to influence the legal proceedings, which are now ongoing,” Lindström added.

In his tweets on Thursday, Trump also repeated his prior claims of a Swedish “crime problem,” which initially surfaced in the first months of his presidency.

Trump stunned Swedes in early 2017 when he referred to “what’s happening last night in Sweden” while discussing immigration. In Sweden, many interpreted his remarks as suggesting that a terrorist attack had occurred in the country — even though locals were not aware of any such incident. Trump later specified he was referring to a Fox News segment on crime in Sweden.

Migrants have been singled out by far-right lawmakers in the country as being behind an increase in certain crimes, but researchers pointed out that even the most severely affected places in Sweden were still safer than many U.S. cities.

The acting press secretary to the Swedish prime minister said on Friday that he had no comment on Trump’s reference to a Swedish “crime problem."

To Tabor, the lack of a detailed governmental responses to Trump’s latest attacks against an allied nation reflected a growing sentiment in Sweden: “People don’t take this seriously anymore,” he said, referring both to Trump’s broader attacks on Sweden and his demands that A$AP Rocky be released.

The rapper — whose real name is Rakim Mayers — is accused of participating in an assault with two others on a man in Stockholm at the end of June. A video of the alleged assault was published by TMZ, but authorities said their charges were also based on additional evidence, including witness statements. The rapper has defended himself, writing on Instagram: “WE DIDNT WANT TROUBLE."

Trump first weighed into the debate last week, when he urged Löfven to release the rapper. A group of Democratic lawmakers also expressed concerns over the group’s weeks-long detention, initially without charges.

But Sweden’s former prime minister Carl Bildt defended the independence of Sweden’s judicial system, writing on Twitter on Friday that political interference in judicial processes “is distinctly off limits.”

“That’s the way it is in the U.S., and that’s certainly the way it is in Sweden,” he wrote, adding that Trump “will be in deep trouble” if he “tries to obstruct justice in his own country.”