Trump: Pardoned Thanksgiving turkeys have 'already received subpoenas'

At the annual White House event Tuesday, the president joked that the birds had been summoned "to appear in Adam Schiff's basement on Thursday."

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By Lauren Egan

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, who pardoned two turkeys named “Bread” and “Butter” as part of the White House Thanksgiving tradition Tuesday, used the annual event to joke about the House impeachment inquiry.

"Thankfully, Bread and Butter have been specially raised by the Jacksons to remain calm under any condition, which will be very important because they've already received subpoenas to appear in Adam Schiff's basement on Thursday," Trump said.

"It seems the Democrats are accusing me of being too soft on turkey, but Bread and Butter — I should note that, unlike previous witnesses, you and I have actually met. It's very unusual," Trump continued.

Trump added that the pardon would be "very popular" with the news media, joking that "turkeys are closely related to vultures."

Every fall, the chair of the National Turkey Federation is tasked with providing the National Thanksgiving Turkey to the White House. This year, farmer Wellie Jackson and his son drove Bread and Butter from North Carolina to Washington. In keeping with recent tradition, the turkeys stayed at the luxurious Willard Hotel down the street from the White House.

According to the White House, both turkeys weigh nearly 50 pounds. Bread is a fan of “college basketball and a cold Cheerwine” while Butter enjoys snacking on “sweet potato fries and is currently training for a personal best in the turkey trot.”

Farmers have been gifting turkeys to presidents as far back as the 1870s, when a Rhode Island turkey supplier began sending well-fed birds to the White House as a holiday gift. However, they were not always pardoned.

The first turkey "pardon" is believed to have occurred in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln’s son Tad allegedly begged his father not to kill the Thanksgiving turkey. According to the White House Historical Association, White House reporter Noah Brooks wrote at the time that “a live turkey had been brought home for the Christmas dinner, but [Lincoln’s son Tad] interceded in behalf of its life. ...[Tad’s] plea was admitted and the turkey’s life spared.”

Although the official turkey presentation from the poultry industry was made an annual tradition in 1947, pardoning turkeys remained an irregular occurrence.

In December 1948, President Harry Truman said his turkey would “come in handy” for Christmas dinner. The Washington Post has reported that records from the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library showed plans for Eisenhower's turkey “to be dressed” each year and then delivered to the president’s table.

The first president thought to have used the word “pardon” during a turkey presentation ceremony was Ronald Reagan in 1987. But Reagan was actually just making a joke in an effort to avoid answering a reporter’s question about pardoning key players in the Iran-Contra scandal. He had already planned to send Charlie the turkey to a petting zoo, as President Richard Nixon had previously done with his turkeys.

The modern day tradition of pardoning a turkey formally took shape in 1989 with President George H.W. Bush.

"Let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone's dinner table, not this guy," Bush said at the time. "He's granted a presidential pardon as of right now — and allow him to live out his days on a children's farm not far from here."

For the fourth year in a row, the presidentially pardoned turkeys are expected to spend the rest of their lives at "Gobblers Rest" at Virginia Tech University.