IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Did Trump offer a possible pardon to a top US border official?

Two new reports say Trump pressed the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection to push the legal envelope, and combined the directive with a pardon offer.
President Donald Trump talks with reporters as he reviews border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.
President Donald Trump talks with reporters as he reviews border wall prototypes, Tuesday, March 13, 2018, in San Diego.

We're aware of Donald Trump abusing his pardon power. We're also aware of reports about the president telling people that following the law is optional. Today, CNN published a report that seemed to combine these two dynamics.

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.

The CNN report, which hasn't been independently verified by NBC News or MSNBC, received a denial from a DHS spokesperson who said Trump never "indicated, asked, directed or pressured the Acting Secretary to do anything illegal." It's also possible that the president was trying to be funny.

But stories like these are so easy to believe because of their familiarity. This reporting is very much in line with everything else we've learned about this president, his manic recent border efforts, and his indifference to the rule of law.

Indeed, the CNN report coincides with a related new report from the New York Times, which added, "President Trump last week urged Kevin McAleenan, whom he was about to name as acting secretary of homeland security, to close the southwestern border despite having just said that he was delaying a decision on the step for a year, according to three people briefed about the conversation."

The Times' article went on to note that Trump raised the prospect of -- you guessed it -- a presidential pardon in the event of McAleenan facing legal jeopardy as a result of Trump's directive.

Following up on our earlier coverage, the avalanche of stories about Trump proposing, threatening, promising, or recommending radical immigration measures over the last couple of weeks has been extraordinary.

He’s threatened to close the border; he’s threatened tariffs against Mexico that he cannot impose; he’s talked up the idea of using military force against asylum seekers; he’s insisted the United States should “get rid of” immigration judges; he’s fired many of his own top Homeland Security officials; he’s touted a counterproductive plan to end aid to Central America’s “Northern Triangle,” he’s prepared to drop off immigrants in his opponents’ districts as part of a political retribution scheme; he’s reportedly told border officials that following the law is optional; and he's now reportedly directed the CBP chief to push past the legal envelope while promising a presidential pardon.

As political initiatives go, this one isn't exactly subtle.