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Reminder—Trump had no presidential power to do thing he now says he won’t do: prosecute Clinton
Posted on November 22, 2016 at 6:37 PM
Kellyanne Conway says Donald Trump has sent “a very strong message” by indicating that he won’t pursue a prosecution of Hillary Clinton, and Breitbart News is already labeling him a traitor to their cause. Perhaps that’s because Breitbart failed to mention to their extremely learned readers that a president has no legal basis on which to launch investigations. To the contrary, writes Philip Bump:
“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.”
[Daniel] Richman pointed out how many layers a potential prosecution would need to filter through: the FBI, the lawyers in the Justice Department (who, he points out, “generally are not shrinking violets when it comes to complaints of political interference”), the judiciary — and ultimately the jury that would have to convict.
The biggest problem in all of this is that Donald Trump both promised a prosecution on the campaign trail and now thinks he’s the decider of not moving forward with an investigation. As noted above, it’s a shocking revelation to Breitbarters and other supporters who gleefully broke out in “Lock her up!” chants at every mention of Clinton during Trump campaign rallies.
Hopefully Richman, a former federal prosecutor, is right about the many walls Trump would have to demolish to direct such actions as president. But honestly, after the Comey effect, does anyone have faith that FBI will be an independent force of moderation? Hopefully Justice Department attorneys would put up a fight, but as I outlined in my weekend column, if civil servants witness a string of firings based on lack of fealty to Trump, we could be entering into a wilderness of government abuses.
American presidents are not supposed to be dictators, by design. But Trump exhibited no knowledge of that during the campaign and his followers happily bought into the fantasy that he, and he alone, could instantly fix ALL if he were elected. Most of his promises were premised on that omnipotence. Signs of weakness/reality now could easily drive a wedge between Trump and the adulation for which he had such a deep, visceral need. If that wanes as the reality of his limitations sinks in among his acolytes, Trump’s reaction remains to be seen. Hopefully, our Constitution contains enough checks on power that his wrath can be limited.