Last Updated May 17, 2018 4:23 PM EDT
President Trump on Wednesday encouraged the Justice Department to investigate Oakland's Mayor Libby Schaaf for "obstruction of justice," after she tipped off immigrant communities about an Immigration and Customs Enforcement sweep. Mr. Trump made the comments in a California "sanctuary state" roundtable at the White House, with Attorney General Jeff Sessions feet away down the table.
"To me, that's obstruction of justice," Mr. Trump said. "And perhaps the Department of Justice can look into that..."
According to the White House pool reporter in the room, Sessions sat stone-faced as Mr. Trump made those remarks.
The president also called some illegal immigrants not human, but "animals," after Fresno's sheriff expressed the difficulty in capturing and punishing illegal immigrants accused of crimes, such as members of the MS-13 gang. The conversation was in the context of criminal illegal immigrants who evade the law.
"We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in -- and we're stopping a lot of them -- but we're taking people out of the country," Mr. Trump said. " You wouldn't believe how bad these people are. These aren't people. These are animals. And we're taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that's never happened before. And because of the weak laws, they come in fast, we get them, we release them, we get them again, we bring them out. It's crazy."
On Thursday, White House press secretary said Mr. Trump "was very clearly referring to MS-13 gang members" who enter the country illegally when he made those comments. Sanders criticized media coverage of the president's remarks as lacking context.
"Frankly, I think that the term 'animal' doesn't go far enough," she added.
Mr. Trump himself later clarified the term on Thursday, saying he was referring to MS-13 gang members, and will "always" refer to them as "animals."
"But I'm referring, and you know I'm referring, to the MS-13 gangs that are coming in," Mr. Trump said. "And I was talking about the MS-13. ... These are animals. They're coming into our country. We're getting them out. They come in again, we're getting them out. We need strong immigration laws. We have the weakest laws in the entire world. We have laws that are laughed at on immigration. So when the MS-13 comes in, when the other gang members come into our country, I refer to them as animals. And guess what, I always will."
The Trump administration continued its battle against sanctuary jurisdictions Wednesday, as Mr. Trump met with a group of California mayors and others the White House described as "directly affected by California's dangerous sanctuary city laws." The Justice Departmentfor what the DOJ views as interfering with federal immigration laws. The president said the U.S. has the worst immigration laws in the world, and blamed Democrats for those laws. Mentioning a policy his administration has carried out to separate families who come to the U.S. illegally, Mr. Trump blamed that, too, on Democrats.
"We have to break up families ... the Democrats gave us that law," he said.
Mr. Trump mentioned an incident of an illegal immigrant accused of rape in Maryland.
"We cannot let this butchery happen in America," Mr. Trump said.
The president also claimed border crossings are down 40 percent, although the most recent statistics would suggest otherwise. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, apprehensions at the southwest border were up in March and April of 2018 over the same months in 2017.
The president has already criticized the Oakland mayor, along with California Gov. Jerry Brown, over the state's approach to immigration.
"You have sanctuary cities where you have criminals living in the sanctuary cities and then the mayor of Oakland goes out and notifies when ICE is going in to pick them up," Mr. Trump said in March during his. "And many of them were criminals with criminal records and very dangerous people ... And no, I think the governor's doing a terrible job running the state of California."
Brown responded to Mr. Trump's roundtable remarks in a tweet Wednesday, saying he and other Californians are "not impressed."
This story has been updated to include White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders' remarks Thursday on the president's comments Wednesday on illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes and evade the law.