President Trump, who has indicated repeatedly that he sees the Justice Department as a political tool rather than an independent department meant to uphold the law and protect the integrity of the justice system in the United States, told the White House counsel in the spring he wanted to order the DOJ to prosecute Hillary Clinton and former FBI director James Comey, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
It isn’t clear what he wanted to prosecute his political adversaries for, but his counsel, Don McGahn, who has since left the White House, made it clear at the time that the president had no power to use the Justice Department to prosecute Clinton and Comey and that attempting to do so—or even asking for an investigation of Clinton and Comey—would would open the president up to accusations of abuse of power or even impeachment.
According to the Times, those familiar with the situation said McGahn even had White House lawyers write a memo for the president laying out the potential consequences if Trump were to push an investigation.
The Times’ sources didn’t say if Trump pursued the matter further, but two people who talked to the president about the issue did tell the Times that Trump had privately discussed the possibility, including the idea of appointing a second special counsel to investigate them.
Trump has criticized McGahn, reportedly blaming him for special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment. As for Comey and Clinton, the president has accused the former, baselessly, of having mishandled or improperly sharing sensitive government information and the latter of corruption. He has also continued to complain about Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Last year, Trump’s lawyers privately asked the Justice Department to investigate Comey for his handling of sensitive government information and his role in the Clinton email investigation, but law enforcement officials denied the requests. Witnesses have also told the special counsel that Trump asked Comey to shut down an investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.
Trump has also, since the earliest days of his campaign, promised his supporters he would use his Justice Department to investigate and prosecute Hillary Clinton. It was then considered an unprecedented line of attack by a candidate openly admitting he would abuse his power. It now seems Trump has contemplated ways of making good on that promise.