After WH Silence, Trump Denies He Dangled Pardon For Border Official

US President Donald Trump speaks as Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Kevin K. McAleenan (2nd R) watches during a meeting at the Customs and Border Protection National Targeting Center in Ste... US President Donald Trump speaks as Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Kevin K. McAleenan (2nd R) watches during a meeting at the Customs and Border Protection National Targeting Center in Sterling, Virginia on February 2, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images) MORE LESS

The White House had no comment for The New York Times or CNN in response to their reports Friday that President Donald Trump offered a pardon to an administration official if he was found to have broken the law by carrying out the President’s direction to reject asylum seekers at the border.

Later on Friday, though, Trump said NBC News’ report on the matter was false. NBC News, as it happens, had no such report; it simply flagged the Times’ coverage instead.

It appears Trump was referring to reports from the Times and CNN that he recently told then-Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan — who’s since been named the acting Homeland Security Secretary following Kirjsten Nielsen’s ouster — that he would pardon McAleenan if, as a result of shutting down the border, McAleenan was found to have broken the law by denying access to asylum seekers.

Both CNN and the Times stipulated that, per their sources, it was unclear whether the President’s comment was meant to be a joke.

Trump reportedly made the comment even after punting on the idea of shutting down the border entirely. CNN reported separately, on Monday, that border agents’ superiors had to tell them not to follow the President’s direction not to let migrants in, lest the border agents be held personally legally liable.

CNN reported Friday:

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.

And the Times reported:

It was not clear what Mr. Trump meant by his request [to McAleenan to close the southwestern border to migrants,] or his additional comment to Mr. McAleenan that he would pardon him if he encountered any legal problems as a result of taking the action.

The White House referred both the Times and CNN to the Department of Homeland Security for comment Friday. A spokesperson for the department, giving the same statement to both outlets, did not specifically deny the reports about a pardon.

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

The Times’ Maggie Haberman, who co-bylined the paper’s pardon report, noted on Twitter what she called the White House’s “approach” to the requests for comment.

Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

Latest News
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Director of Audience:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: