President Donald Trump on Thursday said the United States criminal justice system needs reform and is “very unfair to African-Americans,” and he said he would overrule Attorney General Jeff Sessions if he tried to stand in the way of changes.
The White House in August agreed to hold off on prison and sentencing reform legislation until after the midterm elections. The Department of Justice supported the stance, saying that the legislation would put “drug traffickers back on our streets.”
But on Thursday, asked during a phone call with “Fox and Friends” whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions is standing in the way of criminal justice reform, Trump said the decision is not up to him.
“He gets overruled by me,” Trump said. “I make the decision, he doesn’t.”
“We do need reform, and that doesn’t mean easy,” the president said during the wide-ranging 40-minute interview. “We’re going to make certain categories tougher when it comes to drug dealing and other things, but there has to be a reform because it is very unfair right now. It’s very unfair to African Americans. It is very unfair to everybody, and it is also very costly.”
The president is set to meet Thursday with former professional football player Jim Brown and rapper Kanye West, who are expected to push for criminal justice reform. Both have previously met with Trump and have endorsed the president.
Trump gave the example of Alice Johnson, who was serving a life sentence for nonviolent drug offenses after being jailed in the 1990s, to explain why he feels reform is needed. Johnson, 63, was granted clemency by Trump in June after reality TV star Kim Kardashian West met with him to advocate for Johnson.
“You have many people like Mrs. Johnson that are in jail for another 35 years on a charge that, frankly, everything is serious, but you don’t get life imprisonment because you’re talking over a telephone about something,” the president said.
Trump also praised Kanye West, Kardashian West’s husband, saying he “has been a friend of mine,” adding that he is “a very different kind of a guy. I say that in positive way, but he is a very different kind of a guy.”
The president also touted that his “polls went up like 25 percent” after the rapper came out in support of him, adding that he has “a big, big following” and “is respected.”
“You know what he wants? He is not asking anything for himself,” Trump said. “He doesn’t say, ‘Gee, I want to do this or that.’ He is a private guy. He wants to help people. I think maybe more than anything is prison reform because his wife was terrific, Kim. She brought the attention to Mrs. Johnson.”