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A Look At Trump's History Of Selectively Defending Due Process


Well, President Trump says there is more at stake in this battle than just the fate of his Supreme Court nominee. He tweeted today that, quote, "due process, fairness and common sense are now on trial." That has raised some eyebrows. NPR's Ayesha Rascoe reports on what Trump has said in past about the rights of the accused.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: If Brett Kavanaugh is denied a seat on the Supreme Court, President Trump argues that it will be a sign that men in America will be punished on the basis of accusations that have not been proven. That, he says, is not the American way.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Always I heard you're innocent until proven guilty. I've heard this for so long, and it's such a beautiful phrase. In this case, you're guilty until proven innocent. I think that is a very, very dangerous standard for our country.

RASCOE: But Trump has always defended due process. Take, for example, the case of the Central Park Five. In 1989, five black and Latino teenagers were arrested for the brutal rape of a woman jogging in Central Park. Trump took out a full-page ad calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty long before the five were convicted of the crime. They were exonerated years later and reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with New York. Trump called the settlement a disgrace. One of the Central Park Five, Yusef Salaam, told MSNBC in 2016 that Trump should apologize for his actions.


YUSEF SALAAM: Do I feel like we will ever get it? I think if I held my breath and waited for him to give us an apology, I would probably pass out and turn blue in the face.

RASCOE: Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, says however inappropriate, it was one thing for Trump to issue these sorts of judgments as a private citizen. But now he's president.

JONATHAN TURLEY: When he speaks that way as president, he is the one person who heads the executive branch. That's a vastly different situation from Central Park Five.

RASCOE: Turley says it's troubling that President Trump has continued to assign guilt to people who have not been tried for a crime.


TRUMP: She gets special treatment under the Justice Department.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Lock her up. Lock her up.

RASCOE: The 2016 election is long over, but Trump still presides over rowdy rallies where crowds call for Hillary Clinton to be jailed. And Clinton isn't the only one. Trump has also accused former FBI Director James Comey and other current and former officials of committing crimes related to the Russia investigation. The president still seems to view himself as an outsider, Turley says.

TURLEY: He doesn't view himself as an active player in the investigation. So I think the way that he justifies this in his mind is that he's really not influencing the investigation, that he can speak about it like anyone else.

RASCOE: When it comes to due process, Trump seems sympathetic to his supporters but harder on those he views as opponents. Clark Neily, a criminal justice expert with the Cato Institute, says the president should defend the law no matter what.

CLARK NEILY: And he's failed to do that. He's consistently failed to do that unless it's in the service of people or objectives that he personally, you know, cares about and supports.

RASCOE: I asked the White House if Trump only supports due process for certain people. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders rejected that idea.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: He is simply stating the fact that we are a country of law and order. We are a country that still believes that you're innocent until proven guilty, and we want to see that process go through in its entirety.

RASCOE: Ultimately whether Kavanaugh is on the Supreme Court is a political question, not a legal one. So the role due process plays will be up to the senators. Ayesha Rascoe, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.