President Donald Trump told acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan last week to close the U.S. southern border and that he would pardon him if he faced any legal challenges, according to The New York Times.
The paper, citing three people briefed about the conversation, reported that they spoke when Trump visited the border town of Calexico, Calif., last week shortly before he named McAleenan acting homeland security secretary, NBC News reports.
One of the officials briefed on the conversation said they did not know whether the president was joking. But Trump's remarks alarmed officials at the agency who were briefed on it, The Times said.
NBC News has not independently confirmed the report.
Tyler Houlton, a spokesman for DHS, denied Trump had asked McAleenan to do anything illegal. "At no time has the president indicated, asked, directed or pressured the acting secretary to do anything illegal," Houlton said. "Nor would the acting secretary take actions that are not in accordance with our responsibility to enforce the law."