Trump backs off sending New York terror suspect to ‘Gitmo’ but again pushes death penalty against legal advice

President Donald Trump at a meeting on taxes at the White House on Tuesday.

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President Donald Trump at a meeting on taxes at the White House on Tuesday.
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REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

    President Donald Trump has backed down from saying he’d consider sending Sayfullo Saipov, the suspect in the New York Halloween attack, to Guantanamo Bay. Trump repeated his call for the death penalty, but experts say he may be hurting the chances Saipov will receive that sentence. Trump has been critical of the US justice system and the country’s immigration laws, and he has used Tuesday’s attack to renew his calls for ending the immigration program Saipov used to enter the country.

President Donald Trump on Thursday again tweeted in support of the death sentence for Sayfullo Saipov, the 29-year-old accused of killing eight people in the Halloween terrorist attack in New York City, but he backed off sending Saipov to Guantanamo Bay.

“Would love to send the NYC terrorist to Guantanamo but statistically that process takes much longer than going through the Federal system,” Trump tweeted on Thursday morning. “There is also something appropriate about keeping him in the home of the horrible crime he committed. Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!”

Trump’s latest tweets echoed the support he expressed for the death penalty on Wednesday, though he backed off his support for sending Saipov to Guantanamo Bay, the US military prison in Cuba that began detaining terrorism suspects indefinitely without trial after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Trump pointed to Saipov’s apparent glibness from his hospital bed and his request to hang the ISIS flag in his hospital room.

Trump has also been critical lately of the US justice system, saying it takes too long to punish criminals. “We have to come up with punishment that’s far quicker and far greater than the punishment these animals are getting right now,” Trump said on Wednesday, adding that “what we have right now is a joke and a laughing stock.”

“Send him to Gitmo – I would certainly consider that,” Trump continued at the same press appearance, using a nickname for Guantanamo.

But legal experts argue that Trump’s public support for giving Saipov the death penalty may actually make that sentence harder to reach in court.

Sayfullo Saipov.

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Sayfullo Saipov.
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@DaveDMarko/Twitter

“Mr. President, we all know he should get the death penalty. But when *you* say it, it makes it harder for DOJ to make that happen,” tweeted Andrew McCarthy, a former assistant US attorney for the Southern District of New York.

“This is called potentially tainting jury pool & could impact alleged perpetrator’s ability to secure fair trial,” the national security lawyer Mark Zaid said.

Since Tuesday, when a man authorities identified as Saipov steered a rented pickup truck down a bike path in Manhattan, Trump has also come out against the visa program Saipov used to enter the country. The program, the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, offers visas to immigrants from countries with “historically low rates of immigration to the United States.”

Uzbekistan, Saipov’s native country, is among the places that receive the roughly 50,000 visas allotted annually through the program’s lottery.

Trump has instead promoted the Raise Act, a bill proposing a more merit-based immigration system. The bill has little support from the majority of Republicans and Democrats in Congress.