President Donald Trump offered to inflict political damage on lawmakers who try to limit civil asset forfeiture, making a joke about a practice that has come under serious criticism in recent years from Democrats and libertarian-minded Republicans.
During a meeting at the White House with county sheriffs, Trump said he would “destroy” the career of a Texas state legislator who had proposed restrictions on seizures of property belonging to suspected criminals.
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“Do you want to give his name?” Trump asked Rockwall County, Texas, Sheriff Harold Eavenson after he complained about the legislator. “We’ll destroy his career.”
The comment prompted laughter from participants in the meeting.
Eavenson declined to name the lawmaker as reporters and camera crews recorded the exchange at a brief photo session during the meeting. The Dallas Morning news reported that Texas state senators Konni Burton , a Republican, and Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa , a Democrat, have offered legislation to require conviction of a crime to seize a suspect’s property.
Republicans and Democrats in Congress and in state legislatures have recently pushed legislation to rein in the long-standing practice of police seizing the cash and property of suspects who haven’t been convicted.
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Likening such efforts to the Iran nuclear deal he has often lambasted, Trump said no one understands the phenomenon.
He said Congress would be “beat up” badly by the voters if it stood in the way of police efforts to conduct civil asset forfeiture.
A 2014 Washington Post investigation found that police had taken billions of dollars in cash from motorists without search warrants, and without charging them with a crime.
Police departments have often used the proceeds from seizing suspects’ cash and belongings to fund part of their budgets. They have said the seizures help deter crime.
“We’ve got a state senator in Texas who was talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we could receive that forfeiture money,” Eavenson told Trump. “I told him that the cartel would build a monument to him in Mexico if he could get that legislation passed.”
Lawmakers and libertarian think tanks seeking to curtail the practice have said the asset seizures restrict constitutional due process rights protecting private property.
Updates with reponse in room, details on legislation beginning in fourth paragraph.
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