Trump slams 'joke' justice, targets visa programme

Trump slams 'joke' justice, targets visa programme

President Donald Trump touched off a partisan debate over some of the most divisive issues in American life on Wednesday as he cited this week's terrorist attack in New York to advance his agenda on immigration and national security, while assailing Democrats for endangering the country.

A day after an immigrant from Uzbekistan was arrested on suspicion of plowing a pickup truck along a crowded bicycle path in Manhattan, killing eight people, Trump denounced the US criminal justice system as "a joke" and "a laughingstock," adding that he was open to sending "this animal" instead to the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Shortly before midnight, the president took it a step further, posting a message on Twitter declaring that the suspect, Sayfullo Saipov, should be executed.

"NYC terrorist was happy as he asked to hang ISIS flag in his hospital room," he wrote, referring to the driver's reported interest in the Islamic State extremist group. "He killed 8 people, badly injured 12.

Presidents are typically advised never to weigh in on pending criminal cases because such comments can be used by defence attorneys to argue that their clients cannot get a fair trial - especially when the head of the executive branch that will prosecute the charges advocates the ultimate punishment before a judge has heard a shred of evidence at trial. But Trump has disregarded such advice in other instances as well.

The president's vocal response to the attack framed the emerging politics of the case. While the White House deemed it unseemly to have a policy debate on gun control immediately after the massacre in Las Vegas last month, Trump was eager Wednesday to have a policy debate on immigration. He pressed Congress to cancel a visa lottery programme that allowed the driver into the country, attributing it to Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate Democratic leader, and called Democrats "obstructionists" who "don't want to do what's right for our country."

"We have to get much tougher," the president told reporters. "We have to get much smarter. And we have to get much less politically correct. We're so politically correct that we're afraid to do anything."

A moment like this was almost inevitable since Trump took office and sought to ban visitors from select countries with Muslim majorities. The terrorist attack in New York on Tuesday was the first by a foreign-born assailant on US soil since Trump's inauguration, and few were surprised that he saw it as vindication for his tough-on-immigration approach.

It also provided fodder for him to shift the public focus away from the special counsel investigation that unveiled criminal charges against three former campaign aides this week.

Schumer responded from the floor of the Senate, noting that after the attacks of Sept 11, 2001, President George W Bush brought Schumer and Hillary Clinton, then the other Democratic senator from New York, to the White House to demonstrate national unity.

"President Trump, where is your leadership?" Schumer asked.

NYT

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