President Donald Trump said Friday he is considering posthumously pardoning boxer Muhammad Ali, who was convicted in 1967 after refusing military service in Vietnam – even though Ali’s attorney called it “unnecessary.”
“I’m thinking about Muhammad Ali. I’m thinking about that very seriously and some others,” Trump said, while speaking to reporters at the White House before departing for the Group of Seven summit. “And some folks that have sentences that aren’t fair.”
Ali’s attorney, Ron Tweel, told CNN that there was no contact whatsoever between anyone in the Trump administration and members of the Ali family about the issue.
“So, it’s not like for weeks or days the administration has reached out to the Ali family. None of that,” he told CNN. “This was all spontaneous and I think, as a lot of people like to say, impulsive.”
Tweel said he could only guess what spurred the President’s comments.
“This was quite a surprise to everybody this morning when we heard about it,” he said Friday during a phone interview. “So this, to our knowledge, came out of the blue, for reasons that I’ll let you speculate.”
In a statement earlier, Tweel said that although he appreciated Trump’s sentiment, a “pardon is unnecessary.”
“The US Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Muhammad Ali in a unanimous decision in 1971. There is no conviction from which a pardon is needed,” he said.
Trump told reporters that the legendary boxer is just one of 3,000 names he’s considering pardoning, because “many of those names really have been treated unfairly.”
Ali, born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., is one of the most celebrated athletes in US history. He died in 2016 after a battle with Parkinson’s disease.
As heavyweight champion of the world, Ali was scorned for changing his name and aligning himself with the Nation of Islam, and a furor erupted after he refused, because of his religious beliefs, to serve in the military during the Vietnam War when he was called up in 1966.
In June 1967, Ali was convicted in federal court for violating selective service laws refusing the Vietnam War draft. He was stripped of his World Boxing Association heavyweight title, his passport and all his boxing licenses. He was fined $10,000 and faced a five-year sentence in prison. The Supreme Court unanimously overturned his violation conviction in a unanimous ruling on June 28, 1971, and after anti-war sentiment grew, a judge ruled in 1970 that Ali could box professionally again.
CNN reported on Wednesday that the White House has assembled the paperwork to pardon dozens of people, according to two sources with knowledge of the developments.
Last week, Trump told reporters he was considering pardoning Martha Stewart and commuting the sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Since being in office, Trump has granted five pardons and commuted one sentence. Last month, Trump posthumously granted clemency another boxer Jack Johnson, the first African-American world heavyweight champion who was convicted in 1913 under the Mann Act for taking his white girlfriend across state lines for “immoral” purposes.
Though he mentioned Ali, and two of the clemencies he granted were after a celebrity appealed to him, Trump said Friday he “would get more of a thrill out of pardoning people nobody knows.”
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Steve Almasy, Sarah Hallam and Devon Sayers contributed to this report.