WASHINGTON (AFP) - United States President Donald Trump renewed his attacks on the judiciary on Thanksgiving Day Thursday (Nov 22), accusing judges of making the country unsafe as he fanned a bitter row over asylum seekers on the US-Mexico border.
In a teleconference with US troops, comments to reporters at his Florida estate and early morning tweets, Trump resumed a fight begun on Wednesday after Chief Justice John Roberts defended the independence of federal judges.
Trump threatened to close the border with Mexico if the situation gets out of control, claiming that criminals and "bad people" were in a migrant caravan trying to gain entry as candidates for asylum.
In another matter that has set off rule-of-law alarms, Trump also doubled down on his decision to accept Saudi Arabia's denial that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the Oct 2 assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi - and insisted that contrary to reports the CIA has not concluded otherwise.
"We have a very strong ally in Saudi Arabia. We have an ally that said they did not commit at the top level the crown prince, the king, they did not commit this atrocity," he said.
The president had issued a proclamation earlier in the week ordering that only people entering the country at designated border points be permitted to apply for asylum, a rule that would automatically reject anyone caught trying to cross elsewhere.
But a federal judge in San Francisco, Jon Tigar, temporarily blocked the measure, raising Trump's ire who denounced him as an "Obama judge."
That triggered an extraordinary rebuke on Wednesday from Roberts, the high court's conservative chief justice.
"We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges," Roberts said in a statement to the Associated Press on Wednesday.
"What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them," he said.
The issue clearly was uppermost on Trump's mind during a Thanksgiving teleconference with US service members around the world.
It was the kind of forum that previous presidents would have reserved to thank troops for their service, steering well clear of politics. But Trump lost little time in raising the border.
"It's a terrible thing when judges take over your protective services, when they tell you how to protect your border. It's a disgrace," he told the troops, denouncing the San Francisco appellate court that oversees Tigar as "a big thorn in our side".
He praised the deployment of US troops in the border area, and compared his administration's border battles to US military operations against Islamic militants overseas.
"We took an old broken wall and we wrapped it with barb wire plus. I guess you could really call it barb wire plus. This is the ultimate. Nobody is getting through these walls," he told the troops.
Later, in comments to reporters, Trump said troops on the border were authorised to use lethal force if necessary.
"If they have to, they have to use lethal force. I hope they don't have to, but you're dealing with a minimum of 500 serious criminals. So I'm not going to let the military be taken advantage of," he said.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said earlier this week the troops would be armed only with batons.
More than 4,300 migrants - most of them from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala - have massed in Tijuana, Mexico across the border from San Diego, California after a weeks-long trek from Central America.
Mexican police say 57 Central Americans have been detained and tensions have been growing between the local authorities and the new arrivals.
"If we find that it gets to a level where we are going to lose control or where people are going to start getting hurt, we will close entry into the country for a period of time until we can get it under control," Trump said.
"The whole border. I mean the whole border. Mexico will not be able to sell their cars into the united states where they make so many cars," he said.
Over the course of the day, Trump alluded several times to Roberts, the chief justice.
"Justice Roberts can say what he wants, but the 9th Circuit is a complete & total disaster. It is out of control, has a horrible reputation, is overturned more than any Circuit in the Country," he said in his opening Twitter salvo of the day.
"Judges must not Legislate Security... and Safety at the Border, or anywhere else," Trump tweeted.
"They know nothing about it and are making our Country unsafe."
The latest figures show the 9th Circuit had the fourth highest reversal rate during the October 2017 term.