President Trump asked several former prisoners to recommend people who he can release from prison as he described himself as a fellow victim of injustice.
Trump told a largely black crowd in South Carolina on Friday that an impeachment investigation is a “witch hunt” and that “we’re working to put an end for everybody to horrible injustice and the horrible practices that we’ve seen.”
“Justice, fairness, and due process are core tenets of our democracy,” he said. “In America, you’re innocent until proven guilty, and we don’t have investigations in search of that crime.”
Trump shared his podium with Alice Johnson, whom he released 21 years into a life sentence for a drug conspiracy, and Tanesha Bannister, released after 16 years in prison by provisions in the First Step Act that Trump signed last year.
Trump first asked Johnson for names of people to release, saying, “You’re going to give me a big list, and we’re going to do some good things, okay?”
“Tanesha, like Alice, I want you to give me some recommendations of people that you lived with for many years that you know are good people that are in there for a long period,” he said.
He added: “Give me the right ones, the two of you, and as soon as you can, okay?”
Trump later invited Jerome Brown, who spent 11 years in prison, to also send him names.
The invitations are likely to generate immense interest within prisons. Some observers say proposals for clemency and reforms appeal to Trump, who ran on a law-and-order platform, because of his own sense of unfair persecution.
“He feels he is now being subject to injustice, and so he’s very sensitive to injustices,” Harvard law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz told the Washington Examiner last year after he persuaded Trump to free a prison inmate.
Trump denounced on Friday his treatment by special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and by the House impeachment proceedings focused on Trump pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who worked for a Ukrainian energy company.
In South Carolina, Trump attacked the 1994 crime law authored by Biden, which the First Step Act modified to lessen certain drug penalties. Democrats, he said, “let African Americans down.”
“Four more years!” the crowd chanted at various points in his remarks, underscoring the potential political potency of the issue among black voters for Trump.
Trump spoke after repeatedly proclaiming to journalists at the White House that he did “nothing wrong” to warrant impeachment.
Trump made similar remarks last year about his interest in releasing people from prison, only to disappoint prisoners and their advocates. Johnson, released in June 2018 on the urging of Kim Kardashian, is the only black prisoner whose sentence he commuted.
At the height of Mueller’s investigation, Trump and then-White House Counsel Don McGahn solicited lists of prisoners who would be worthy candidates. Advocacy groups and evangelical leader Alveda King brought lists of people to the West Wing. None were released.