Telling reporters on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews that he had commuted the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and pardoned former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo, financier Michael Milken, and former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik, President Donald Trump said that in his own opinion he was the country's top cop.
"I'm actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country," Trump said.
TRUMP: "I'm actually, I guess, the chief law enforcement officer of the country." (The attorney general is the top law enforcement officer of the country.) pic.twitter.com/5ajK5CkTxB
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 18, 2020
"NARRATOR: He is not the chief law enforcement officer in the country," tweeted filmmaker Billy Corben.
As Attorney General, a position created by the Judiciary Act of 1789, William Barr is the nation's chief law enforcement officer.
But, as New York Times reporter Charlie Savage pointed out on Twitter, Barr himself endorses Trump's view.
"William Barr likes to say that the president is the chief law enforcement officer of the country," said Savage. "It's part of his unitary executive theory mindset."
Trump's decision to commute and pardon Tuesday's quartet was seen by observers as another example of the president's corruption.
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In a statement, Common Cause Illinois said that by commuting Blagojevich's sentence, Trump was sending a clear message to other corrupt politicians.
"This decision is wrong and deprives the people of Illinois the justice they deserve," the group said. "After consistently ignoring our nation's ethics norms and laws for the last three years, President Trump has now chosen to side with the long line of Illinois politicians that have been imprisoned or had their careers ended due to corruption."
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) issued a scathing statement on the pardons, drawing attention to Milken's crimes in particular.
"Trump has used pardons almost exclusively to shield unrepentant felons, racists, and corrupt scoundrels like Blagojevich and now Milken, one of the most prolific financial criminals in U.S. history," said Pascrell. "The presidential pardon is sacred under the Constitution and perhaps represents Trump's most dangerous abuse of power precisely because the pardon power is unfettered and cannot be reviewed by Congress or the courts."
WH press release on Kerik and Milken pardons mentions support from numerous figures from Trump world and conservative media. pic.twitter.com/9ZuxeNcc1y
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) February 18, 2020
In a statement, Media Matters for America spokesperson Laura Keiter said that Trump's tying of the pardons and commutations to Fox News was just another example of the corrupting influence of the network.
"President Trump's pardon of Bernard Kerik and commutation of Rod Blagojevich's sentence are further proof that Fox News continues to help drive the agenda of Trump's White House," said Keiter. "This is the 11th time that Trump's use of executive clemency and pardons has been linked to his Fox News obsession."
Blagojevich's appearance on Trump's long-lived NBC reality show "The Apprentice" and the president's history of attacking the Central Park Five present a telling contrast, said Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington researcher Robert Maguire.
"As Trump commutes the sentence of a former contestant on his reality TV show who went to jail for crimes he was literally caught committing, it's worth noting that Trump called for the Central Park Five to get the death penalty, and he still thinks they're guilty," said Maguire.