Trump Backs Away From Idea Of New Clinton Email Investigation, Prosecution

Trump backs away from yet another campaign promise.

Donald Trump Shrug

During the Presidential campaign, Donald Trump commonly referred to Hillary Clinton as ‘Crooked Hillary’ as he referenced her list of supposed criminal acts, such as the maintenance and use of a private email server and alleged ties between donations to the Clinton Foundation and State Department policies during the time Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Typically, this would end with chants of “Lock Her Up!” from the crowd that became something of a campaign slogan in the final weeks of the campaign. While Trump didn’t emphasize this issue at all points during the campaign, it was certainly something he referenced on a regular basis, most especially in the final week of the campaign after F.B.I Director James Comey announced that the Bureau was looking at newly discovered emails that may have been connected to Clinton’s server only to announce a week later that the email in question had not changed the previous recommendation that there was nothing regarding the server warranting criminal prosecution. Now, though, Trump is singing a different tune and telling reporters that he has no interest in pursuing a renewed criminal investigation of Clinton or the Foundation:

WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald J. Trump repeatedly said Hillary Clinton’s “lies and deception” rivaled Watergate. He called her “Crooked Hillary.” His most rabid fans chanted it over and over again at huge campaign rallies: “Lock her up!”

But on Tuesday, Mr. Trump essentially said: “never mind,” signaling that he does not intend to pursue investigations into his rival’s use of a private email server or the financial operations at the Clinton family’s global foundation.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, Kellyanne Conway, the former Trump campaign manager and a senior adviser to his transition, said the president-elect wanted to “move beyond the issues of the campaign” and confirmed that Mr. Trump did not want his promised Clinton investigations to take place.

“If Donald Trump can help her heal, then perhaps that’s a good thing,” Ms. Conway said.

The decision may help Mr. Trump focus on his agenda once he moves into the Oval Office in January, without the potential distraction of an unprecedented legal inquiry by a winning presidential candidate against the person he vanquished.

But it could deeply disappoint many of the voters whose anger against Mrs. Clinton he helped stoke throughout a bitter and divisive campaign. During the second debate between the two candidates, Mr. Trump turned to Mrs. Clinton and vowed that “if I win I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there’s never been so many lies, so much deception.”

And the new president’s decision is also likely to frustrate investigators at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who are fiercely protective of their independence to follow the facts that they uncover. A declaration from Mr. Trump that he wanted inquiries about Mrs. Clinton to stop could be seen as unwarranted presidential meddling into an F.B.I. investigation.

Although the email investigation is closed, the F.B.I. still has an open inquiry into the Clinton Foundation. That inquiry was begun after the publication in 2015 of the book “Clinton Cash,” which asserted that some foreign entities gave money to the foundation in return for State Department favors when Mrs. Clinton was in office. The Clintons have denied those assertions.

If, as president, Mr. Trump ordered the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to close the inquiry, Mr. Comey could choose to rebuff him. To insulate F.B.I. directors from political pressure, they are given a ten-year term. The president can fire a director for cause, as President Bill Clinton did in 1993 after a Department of Justice investigation uncovered ethical abuses by Director William S. Sessions.

As Philip Bump notes, Trump’s promise to continue the investigation of Hillary Clinton was always nothing more than pure politics:

We spoke by phone with Columbia University professor Daniel Richman, a former federal prosecutor who has consulted with the Justice and Treasury departments. He explained how and where the president can leverage his authority over the government’s criminal investigatory mechanisms.

Richman said that the president can, through his attorney general, target broad areas for focus.

“Certainly as the head of the executive branch, the president has considerable sway over policy decisions, as to what kinds of cases or what types of offenses will get priority,” he said, referring to things like corruption or fraud. “But a huge line has always been drawn between general priorities and specific cases, and there are a considerable number of conventions, protections and institutional frameworks in place to keep presidents out of particular cases.”

Richman points out that it’s not completely unheard of for a president to seek to target individual people, citing the example of New York drug dealer Nicky Barnes, who appeared on the front of the New York Times Magazine in 1977 to President Jimmy Carter’s great annoyance.

“But particularly post-Watergate, there really have been efforts to very much patrol communications between the White House and the Justice Department,” he said. “Usually there is a designated person in the [White House] counsel’s office; there are very closely watched and monitored counterparties in the Justice Department to make sure that very little is done with respect to particular cases.”

The goal is simple: to maintain the independence of federal investigators and prosecutors from political influence. “I think the bottom line is, I think both sides realize that if prosecutors become seen as carrying water for the president, it will not be a good thing for federal enforcement in general, or for that case in particular,” he said. The system is designed to prevent the occupant of the White House from using federal investigations for political purposes in precisely the way that Trump once threatened to do.

The Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima spoke with another expert who echoed the same idea.

“Once again, the president-elect has demonstrated his complete lack of understanding of how the government makes these kinds of decisions,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “The attorney general answers to the president, but the department is supposed to be independent, especially when it comes to prosecutorial decisions. Any president, especially our next president, needs to both understand and respect that – or else they risk politicizing criminal prosecutions in ways that can be damaging.”

To anyone who has paid attention to these stories from the beginning, this outcome is entirely predictable. While Clinton’s use of a private server and relationship with the Clinton Foundation while in office did raise serious ethical questions that she never adequately answered during her campaign for President, there was little evidence that what had happened rose to the level of something that could be successfully prosecuted. This was seemingly confirmed by the results of the F.B.I. investigation, which lasted more than a year and reportedly involved more than 100 agents at various points along the way. If they were unable to find anything criminal in Clinton’s activity then it’s unlikely that there would have been anything further found in continued investigation of the story. Indeed, I suspect that Trump’s apparent change in position will lead Republicans on Capitol Hill to back away from their own promises to investigate Clinton even after Election Day, a promise that assuredly was based on the presumption that Clinton would win the Presidential election. With Clinton now out of the way, there is little to no value in continuing to attack her. Instead, Republicans on Capitol Hill are likely to seek to investigate the previous Administration in an effort to continue to attack Democrats after the election, or perhaps investigate opponents of Republican policies regardless of what party they belong to. It’s not like they are going to investigate anything the Trump Administration does, after all.

Not surprisingly, Trump’s change in position isn’t sitting well with some of his most ardent supporters:

President-elect Donald Trump is reneging on his promise to jail Hillary Clinton, a sharp departure from the “lock her up!” chants that Trump encouraged at his campaign rallies, immediately drawing the ire of some conservatives.

Breitbart News, the alt-right news organization formerly run by Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, headlined the lead story on its home page “BROKEN PROMISE.”

And Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog agency that sued to get more of Clinton’s State Department emails released, urged Trump on Tuesday to “commit his administration” to investigating Clinton, while promising to continue its own litigation and investigations to help uncover possible scandals.

For Trump to refuse to do so “would be a betrayal of his promise to the American people to ‘drain the swamp’ of out-of-control corruption in Washington, DC,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton warned in a statement. “President-elect Trump should focus on healing the broken justice system, affirm the rule of law and appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Clinton scandals.”

This episode is hardly likely to convince Trump supporters to back away from him, and in any case it’s too late in any case given the fact that he has already been elected. Indeed, this is just likely to be the beginning of what we can likely call the “Sorry, suckers” phase of the Trump saga, in which the candidate pretty much breaks every promise he made to get elected in favor of advancing his political power. Those of us who saw Trump for the charlatan that he is from the beginning could have told the Trump supporters and the Republican hangers-on that this would happen. That Trump won’t build his wall and get Mexico to pay for it, that he won’t be able to bar all Muslims from entering the country, that he won’t get back jobs that have been exported to other countries and replaced by automation, and that he wouldn’t actually prosecute Hillary Clinton. As a matter of fact, we did tell them all of this. It’s just that they didn’t listen and now we’ve got this man in office for at least the next four years.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Law and the Courts, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    Those of us who saw Trump for the charlatan that he is from the beginning could have told the Trump supporters and the Republican hangers-on that this would happen. That Trump won’t build his wall and get Mexico to pay for it, that he won’t be able to bar all Muslims from entering the country, that he won’t get back jobs that have been exported to other countries and replaced by automation, and that he wouldn’t actually prosecute Hillary Clinton. As a matter of fact, we did tell them all of this.

    Yes, and Trump supporters repeatedly told us not to believe everything that comes out of Trump’s mouth.

    Seems we were both right.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    It’s pretty f’ing scary that the President-Elect feels that he has discretion over who gets prosecuted and who doesn’t.
    A world in which the President decides who gets prosecuted in our criminal justice system would be a dangerous one indeed.
    The question that looms over the Republic today; who exactly is going to keep this man in check?

  3. Tony W says:

    It will be a long, national nightmare. The republic will survive, but it will be irreparably damaged as nativists and racists regain their voice.

  4. SenyorDave says:

    Instead, Republicans on Capitol Hill are likely to seek to investigate the previous Administration in an effort to continue to attack Democrats after the election, or perhaps investigate opponents of Republican policies regardless of what party they belong to.

    Because once the Republicans get power that is what they do. Democrats don’t do the reverse even when there is good reason to do so. Bush administration sanctioned torture anyone?

  5. george says:

    I suspect his change of heart is for a very Trump-ish reason – someone pointed out that he would almost certainly be prosecuted for something after he left office (and there’d be so many opportunities that the hardest part would be limiting it to ten charges).

    So he’s going to go with the “high level politicians don’t go after other high level politicians” procedure that everyone uses. Its why Obama didn’t go after Bush and Cheney for war crimes (Iraq war and water boarding), why Trump won’t go after Obama for war crimes (drone attacks), why no President has gone after predecessors despite, as Chomsky pointing out, every President for the just about the last century and probably longer being guilty of war crimes.

    And the saddest thing is that that understanding is a good thing. It’d be far worse if they went after political opponents.

  6. CSK says:

    The rationalizations for this from the Trumpkins are hilarious:

    “It’s a head fake!”

    “He’s waiting for AG Sessions to be sworn in!”

    “He’s waiting to be inaugurated!”

    And, my personal fave:

    “It’s not his job!”

  7. KM says:

    OT: Trump managed to step in it internationally already. Seems he tweeted he wants Farage for UK Ambassador – I’m sorry, “many people” would. He’s been brisked told there’s no vacancy but the story’s up and running. One of our best allies and he’s already pissing them off and challenging their sovereignty with his ignorance.

    For the love of God GOP, take his Twitter account away!! Beg Dorsey if you have to. Change the password, block the IPs, create a fake Twitter interface, something, anything!

  8. JohnMcC says:

    Wouldn’t it be an interesting exercise to have Mr Trump make a short list of the attributes that he thinks are characteristics of the American President and to then compare that to the monarchy of
    George III?

    My most extreme hopeful wish is that the evolution of our ‘Imperial Presidency’ will be reevaluated in the wake of Mr Trump’s impeachment.

  9. James Pearce says:

    As a matter of fact, we did tell them all of this. It’s just that they didn’t listen and now we’ve got this man in office for at least the next four years.

    Ah, the perils of taking someone “seriously” whom you cannot take “literally.”

  10. C. Clavin says:

    @JohnMcC:

    in the wake of Mr Trump’s impeachment

    WHO IN THE FWCK IS GOING TO IMPEACH HIM?
    Paul Ryan??? Trump is just the ticket Ryan needed to enact his Randian war on the poor and the sick and the elderly, and enrich his wealthy friends with tax cuts to the detriment of the middle-class.
    Never. Gonna. Happen.

  11. C. Clavin says:

    From an interview with the NYTimes:

    Trump: Jared Kushner could help make peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

    We. Are. Fwcked.

  12. Andrew says:

    @C. Clavin:

    The most compelling figure in this intrigue, however, wasn’t in Trump Tower. Jared Kushner was three blocks south, high up in his own skyscraper, at 666 Fifth Avenue, where he oversees his family’s Kushner Companies real estate empire. Trump’s son-in-law, dressed in an impeccably tailored gray suit, sitting on a brown leather couch in his impeccably neat office, displays the impeccably polite manners that won the 35-year-old a dizzying number of influential friends even before he had gained the ear, and trust, of the new leader of the free world.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevenbertoni/2016/11/22/exclusive-interview-how-jared-kushner-won-trump-the-white-house/#46868b7e2f50

    I think I saw this once in a movie.

  13. SenyorDave says:

    @C. Clavin: Because the Palestinians will be awed by his brilliance. Maybe they will read a few pieces from the rag he publishes, the New York Observer. I suspect if they were awed there opinion might change rather quickly.

  14. SenyorDave says:

    So now networks are saying that Trump won’t prosecute Clinton. Do they actually have anyone on staff who understands the function of the POTUS? It sounds like they think Trump is a prosecuter who is declining to prosecute a criminal.

    Maybe Eric Schneiderman, the NY AG, should release a statement that he will decline to prosecute Trump in his charity fraud case. Because that truly would be a case of a prosecuter declining to prosecute, not a president-elect blowing smoke up everyone’s ass (and succeeding). This is effin amazing that it won’t be a story:

    Trump’s charity admits to violating IRS self-dealing ban

    It was the PRESIDENT-ELECT who violated the ban. HE STOLE FROM HIS OWN CHARITY!

  15. C. Clavin says:

    The level of unethical activity and practices will be staggering.
    Trump:

    “The law’s totally on my side, the president can’t have a conflict of interest.”

    In other words…I can do anything I want and fwck you.

  16. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @C. Clavin: You’re being unfair. Give Kushner a shot. Nothing else has worked and he’s not likely to do any real permanent damage to a situation that is already hopeless.

  17. bandit says:

    Too bad bedwetters – the Corruption Queen may skate on the eMail server but then they can get her on the money laundering. She’ll hit the bottle harder and then fall down more – the laughs’ll keep on coming.

  18. Barry says:

    @C. Clavin: “t’s pretty f’ing scary that the President-Elect feels that he has discretion over who gets prosecuted and who doesn’t.
    A world in which the President decides who gets prosecuted in our criminal justice system would be a dangerous one indeed.”

    Doug, did that thought ever cross your mind?

  19. JohnMcC says:

    @C. Clavin: Please don’t take away my dreams, you mean old man.

  20. rachel says:

    @CSK: Back when Don the Con made those promises, they had something he wanted: their votes. I wonder how many of them will come to understand that now that he’s gotten the votes, he’s free to ignore them and he will whenever doing what he promised is either impossible or will take time better spent lining his own pockets.

  21. CSK says:

    @rachel:

    I think most of them have far too much of an emotional investment in him to admit publicly that they’ve been conned. Or they’d be far too embarrassed to admit it. Some of them may be too thick to realize they’ve been conned.

    They’re certainly inventing, at a very fast clip, rationalizations to excuse him.

  22. stonetools says:

    Pity the right wing rubes like the mongrel up thread . They were led by Brietbart, etc.to think that the EMAILZ! issue was an act of treason on par with Rosenberg passing atomic secrets to the Russians. It was always a nothing burger, fluffed up by Judicial Watch and various right wing anti-Clinton groups into a fake scandal. Sadly, the mainstream media played along with the right wing groups because they thought there was a “good government” point to be made about government email protocol . By the mainstream media realized what was happening and tried to add some context, what was a minor breach of protocol had morphed into a Frankenstein monster that brought down Clinton.
    Now that the fake scandal has served it’s purpose,Trump wants to make it go away.I wonder what the rubes who were taken in by all this will think of this. Sadly, if they are like Bandit, they won’t think-they’ll just swallow whatever nonsense the right wing BS machine shovels at them next.

  23. rachel says:

    @CSK: Those fall under the heading of “You can fool some of the people all the time.” They want to be fooled, so there’s nothing we can do about them except try to limit the damage.

  24. dxq says:

    I just read that the trump foundation has admitted to the IRS that they engaged in self-dealing in 2015, and several years prior.

    Please someone remind me why the Clinton Foundation was so corrupt. I’m losing the thread. I seem to recall some conservatives saying it was corrupt. The details…I’m a little hazy, please advise.

  25. grumpy realist says:

    Good article on Trump’s reversals for this week. Especially good because the writer points out that Trump will no doubt double-reverse himself in the future as soon as he finds it convenient.

  26. al-Ameda says:

    @bandit:

    Too bad bedwetters – the Corruption Queen may skate on the eMail server but then they can get her on the money laundering. She’ll hit the bottle harder and then fall down more – the laughs’ll keep on coming.

    You seem to really enjoy crapping in your pants.
    Why? Is it the smell?