WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said he is thinking “very seriously” about pardoning the late Muhammad Ali, an act of clemency that the boxer’s lawyer says is unnecessary because the Supreme Court overturned the heavyweight champion’s conviction in 1971.
And for such future grants of presidential power, Trump said he may seek the recommendations of pro football players and other athletes who have protested racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem.
“What I’m going to do is I’m going to say to them, instead of talk — it’s all talk, talk, talk….I am going to ask all of those people to recommend to me — because that’s what they’re protesting — people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system,” he said. “I’m going to ask them to recommend to me people that were unfairly treated, friends of theirs or people that they know about and I’m going to take a look at those applications.”
The president said the athletes have “seen a lot of abuse” and “a lot of unfairness” and that he wants their input on his use of this executive power.
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Speaking as he left the White House for a world leaders’ summit in Canada, Trump also that he’s considering thousands of additional pardons, including one for the boxing great.
“I’m thinking about somebody that you all know very well. And he went through a lot. And he wasn’t very popular then,” Trump said. “He certainly, his memory is very popular now.”
It was not immediately clear why Trump cited Ali as in need of a pardon, given that Ali has no criminal record. The Supreme Court overturned his conviction for resisting the draft in 1971.
“We appreciate President Trump’s sentiment, but a pardon is unnecessary,” said Ron Tweel, Ali’s lawyer. Given the high court’s action, “there is no conviction from which a pardon is needed.”
The White House did not immediately respond to questions about why the president feels one is warranted.
Ali was born Cassius Clay, and changed his name after converting to Islam in the 1960s. He refused to serve in the Vietnam War because of his religious beliefs, declaring himself a conscientious objector, and saying, “I ain’t got no quarrel” with the Viet Cong.
Ali was stripped of his heavyweight crown in 1967. Ali’s legal fight ended in 1971 when the Supreme Court ruled in his favor. He regained the boxing title in 1974. Ali died in 2016.
Trump has been on a clemency kick, and earlier this week commuted the life sentence of a woman whose cause was championed by reality television star Kim Kardashian West.
Last month he granted a posthumous pardon to boxing’s first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, more than 100 years after many saw as his racially charged conviction. Johnson was convicted in 1913 by an all-white jury of violating the Mann Act for traveling with his white girlfriend. That law made it illegal to transport women across state lines for “immoral” purposes.
Trump told reporters Friday his team is “looking at literally thousands of names” of people who have come to their attention because they’ve been treated unfairly or their sentences are too long.
“We have 3,000 names. We’re looking at them,” Trump said.
He did not offer any other names, but said in response to a reporter’s question that O.J. Simpson wasn’t on the list.
The president has said he’s considering commuting the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is serving 14 years in prison for corruption, and pardoning celebrity homemaker Martha Stewart, who served about five months on charges connected to an insider trading case.
“The power to pardon,” said Trump, “is a beautiful thing.”
In his first use of that power, Trump spared a former Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio, the prospect of serving jail time after a conviction stemming from his use of immigration patrols that focused on Latinos.
Last year, the president commuted the sentence of an Iowa kosher meatpacking executive who had been sentenced to 27 years in prison for money laundering. In March, he pardoned a U.S. Navy sailor who served a year in federal prison after taking photos of classified portions of a submarine.
In April, Trump issued a full pardon in April to I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney who was convicted of lying to investigators and obstruction of justice following the 2003 leak of the covert identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame.
And Trump recently pardoned conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza, who was convicted of a campaign finance violation.