White House insiders say Trump secretly supports the death penalty for drug dealers
“He often jokes about killing drug dealers,” a senior administration official said.
We’ve known since the campaign that Trump thinks drugs are bad, but now, thanks to a senior White House official, we also know exactly what Trump would like to do to drug offenders: kill them.
“He often jokes about killing drug dealers,” a senior administration official told Axios, a news site founded by Politico co-founder Jim VandeHei, among others. “He’ll say, ‘You know the Chinese and Filipinos don’t have a drug problem. They just kill them.’”
Of course, a joke is a joke and the president has a history of saying things he doesn’t mean. But in this case, killing drug dealers is something the president has reportedly spoken about on multiple occasions. According to five Axios sources who say they have spoken to Trump about drugs, the president has launched into passionate rants about drug dealers before, likening them to serial killers and saying that they deserve the death penalty.
To be more specific, the object of Trump’s praise seems to be Filipino President, someone who has admitted to personally killing drug dealers while he was mayor of the city of Davao. In December of 2016, before Trump officially took office, he spoke with Duterte over the phone and praised his increasingly violent war on drugs.
“He was quite sensitive also to our worry about drugs,” Duterte said in a statement about the phone call, noting that the US president said, “we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way.”
When President Trump visited the Philippines in November 2017, he received criticism for not addressing Duterte’s violent approach to the country’s drug problem. According to Human Rights Watch’s 2018 World Report, Duterte’s shoot-first-press-charges-later approach is responsible for killing more than 12,000 people who were never brought to court for their alleged crimes. To boot, Duterte has even suggested killing human rights activists in response to their criticism “so they can see what real human rights violations are.”
Still, according to White House officials, President Trump seems to recognize that it would be difficult to get Americans to agree with importing a policy which has received widespread international condemnation. This most recent report states that President Trump believes there needs to be an emphasis on education and that children need to be told that “they’ll die if they take drugs and they’ve got to make drug dealers fear for their lives.”
Unlike Duterte, Trump doesn’t believe that drug dealers of all stripes deserve the death penalty and he’s taken a lighter tone on users. His focus is largely on fentanyl dealers and those responsible for the spread of the opioid crisis.
“The president makes a distinction,” said Trump’s spokesperson, Kellyanne Conway, “between those that are languishing in prison for low-level drug offenses and the kingpins hauling thousands of lethal doses of fentanyl into communities, that are responsible for many casualties in a single weekend.”
In the coming weeks, Trump has said he would support increasing the penalties for fentanyl dealers, in particular, drastically reducing the amount of fentanyl required for a mandatory minimum conviction from 40 grams to just two.
He also seems to have made closing the office of National Drug Control Policy—also known as the Drug Tzar—a priority. Earlier this year, Trump made a second attempt to slash the Drug Tzar’s budget by 95 percent. The White House intends to redistribute those funds among the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, indicating that the administration may want to give Attorney General Jeff Sessions the lead on fighting his own brand of the war on drugs.
For now, it would be nearly impossible for American drug dealers to face the death penalty regardless of what the president says in private. But as the Washington Post has pointed out, Trump is something of a blank slate when it comes to policy; adopting the opinions of the last person he spoke to as his own. So let’s just hope he doesn’t have any more conversations with Duterte.