Trump Says He’s Considering a Pardon for Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali in 1978.

WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Friday that he is considering pardoning Muhammad Ali, a boxing legend who died two years ago and was convicted of refusing to be drafted during the Vietnam War. But it was not immediately clear what Mr. Trump sought to pardon, as Mr. Ali’s conviction was overturned nearly 50 years ago.

“I’m thinking about that very seriously,” Mr. Trump said of the possible pardon before he left Washington on Friday morning for the G-7 financial summit in Canada.

Mr. Ali had fought his conviction all the way to the Supreme Court, which in 1971 granted him the conscientious-objector status he had sought.

Mr. Ali’s attorney, Ron Tweel, said the pardon was not necessary. But he thanked Mr. Trump for the consideration.

The president recently pardoned another late boxing legend, Jack Johnson, who was convicted in 1913 for transporting a white woman across state lines. Mr. Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion, served 10 months in a federal prison for his racially-tainted crime.

Mr. Trump has been embroiled by the ongoing special counsel investigation into his presidential campaign’s ties with Russia and whether he tried to obstruct justice. In recent weeks, he has drawn positive media coverage by considering how broadly he might exercise what appears to be the president’s unlimited authority to pardon people who have been convicted of federal crimes.

The president has been praised for granting clemency to Alice Johnson, a 63-year-old who was serving a life sentence in prison for a nonviolent drug conviction. Her case was championed by TV celebrity Kim Kardashian West, who met with Mr. Trump at the White House last month.

On Friday, Mr. Trump said he was considering other pardons drawn from a list of 3,000 names. “Many of those names really have been treated unfairly,” the president said.

Mr. Trump also solicited names from professional football players, following his recent faceoffs over a new N.F.L. policy that allows team members to remain in locker rooms during the national anthem. Players have knelt in public while the song is being played to protest social injustice, including police treatment of African Americans.

“If the players, if the athletes have friends of theirs or people they know about that have been unfairly treated by the system, let me know,” Mr. Trump said.

The notion that the Trump administration would review 3,000 federal inmates incarcerated for offenses similar to Ms. Johnson’s is in conflict with the policies led by his own attorney general, who reversed Obama-era actions to ease punishments for nonviolent drug offenders.

In describing Mr. Ali, Mr. Trump said, “Look, he was not very popular then. Certainly his memory is very popular now.”

Mr. Tweel, who represented Mr. Ali during his legal fight, said in a statement, “We appreciate President Trump’s sentiment, but a pardon is unnecessary. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Muhammad Ali in a unanimous decision in 1971. There is no conviction from which a pardon is needed.”

The White House did not immediately respond to an email with question about whether Mr. Trump was speaking of another person with the same name.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons website lists two inmates with the first and last name of Muhammad Ali, both serving time for drug-related convictions.

Muhammad Wasim Ali, is set to be released later this year after being convicted of illegally distributing narcotic painkillers without a valid medical reason. Muhammad Jaffer Ali is facing nine more years for his role in a scheme to distribute synthetic marijuana.

Mary Price, the general counsel of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said if Mr. Trump’s pardon path leads him to decide that “excessive sentences should get justice by way of clemency,” her organization would support that. She said the hope is that Ms. Johnson’s commutation would “whet his appetite.”

“There are thousands of people like Alice Johnson,” Ms. Price said. “There’s a lot of potential here.”

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