President Donald Trump called for the New York City terror suspect to get the death penalty in a late-night tweet Wednesday just hours after Sayfullo Saipov was charged with providing support to ISIS and violence and destruction of motor vehicles.
Trump referenced Saipov’s request to hang an ISIS flag in his hospital room, an anecdote relayed by authorities Wednesday afternoon, and said he “SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!” in all capital letters.
Earlier in the afternoon, Trump raised the possibility of sending the alleged perpetrator to Guantanamo Bay prison. The White House press secretary said the administration considers him to be an “enemy combatant.”
“I believe we would consider this person to be an enemy combatant,” Sarah Sanders said in response to questioning at Wednesday’s White House press briefing.
As an “enemy combatant,” Saipov, the suspect in the attack, could face an altered interrogation and prosecution process.
Trump earlier condemned the United States criminal justice system and labeled Saipov an “animal.”
“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. He added: “What we have right now is a joke” before responding affirmatively when asked if he wanted the alleged assailant to be sent to the Cuban prison notorious for housing alleged terrorists and enemy combatants.
“I would certainly consider it. Send him to Gitmo,” he said, using a nickname for Guantanamo Bay. “I would certainly consider it.”
The president further signaled his intention to “terminate the diversity lottery program,” the visa lottery under which Saipov was admitted from Uzbekistan seven years ago. The Department of Homeland Security confirmed Saipov utilized the program Wednesday. Trump said he would be asking Congress to “get rid of” the policy in favor of a “merit-based program.”
Earlier in the day, Trump pointed a finger at Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for the immigration policies he claims are connected to the attack that left eight people dead and many more injured.
“The terrorist came into our country through what is called the ‘Diversity Visa Lottery Program,’ a Chuck Schumer beauty,” Trump said on Twitter Wednesday.
Trump also promoted the suggested “merit-based” immigration system.
The president’s attack against Schumer follows a trend of directly blaming elected officials in cities and states hit by terrorist attacks. Trump made similar remarks about London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, following the attacks near the London Bridge in June.
“The president’s tweets, I think, were not helpful,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a press conference Wednesday morning. “I don’t think they were factual. I think they tended to point fingers and politicize the situation.”
“His tweet wasn’t even accurate, as far as I’m concerned,” he added.
Both Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio noted that they had not received phone calls from the president on the matter, but had spoken with acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke and White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert, who offered their assistance to the city.
Cuomo and de Blasio each said they were “not bothered” to have not been contacted by Trump and downplayed any politicization of the situation.
On Tuesday, Saipov allegedly drove a rental truck onto a bike path in lower Manhattan near One World Trade Center in what de Blasio called a “cowardly act of terror.”
Saipov entered the United States in 2010 through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. According to the State Department, the program issues about 55,000 visas per year to applicants, most of them from countries that don’t send many émigrés to the United States. The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program was included in the broader immigration reform package passed in 1990 and was signed by then-president George H.W. Bush. The first visa lottery took place in 1995.
Saipov has since become a legal permanent resident and has lived in Cincinnati, Tampa, and, most recently, Paterson, New Jersey, according to a law enforcement official.
Schumer, a member of the House of Representatives at the time, is known to have played a key role in pushing for the program to be included in the comprehensive immigration bill.
The New York senator tweeted Wednesday, “I guess it’s not too soon to politicize a tragedy.”
“I have always believed and continue to believe that immigration is good for America. President Trump, instead of politicizing and dividing America, which he always seems to do at times of national tragedy, should be focusing on the real solution — anti-terrorism funding — which he proposed cutting in his most recent budget,” Schumer said in a statement. “I’m calling on the president to immediately rescind his proposed cuts to this vital anti-terrorism funding.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., also weighed in on Twitter, correcting Trump and pointing out that he and Schumer were both part of the group of lawmakers that “did away with the Diversity Visa Program as part of broader reforms.”
At the Wednesday press briefing, Sanders defended the president against the claims of politicization, saying that because his calls for immigration reforms weren’t “new policy or conversation,” the label can’t apply.
“The president has been talking about extreme vetting and the need for that for the purpose of protecting the citizens of this country long before he was a president,” Sanders said. “This isn’t a new argument or position. And this wasn’t new for the president to speak about it.”
The press secretary further clarified that Trump was not blaming Schumer for the attack.
Overnight, conservative media outlet Breitbart News and former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka joined a vocal chorus of ring wing critics in targeting Schumer. Many on the right said the New York senator’s role in passing the measure is a sign he’s directly responsible for the attack in New York City.
ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps contributed to this report.