Campaign 2016

Donald Trump and the Justice Department: An Update

By Benjamin Wittes
Tuesday, June 7, 2016, 9:27 AM

Recently, I wrote this piece warning of what Donald Trump might do to the U.S. Department of Justice. It contained the following:

A prosecutor—and by extention, a tyrant president who directs that prosecutor—can harass or target almost anyone, and he can often do so without violating any law. He doesn't actually need to indict the person, though that can be fun. He needs only open an investigation; that alone can be ruinous. The standards for doing so, criminal predication, are not high. And the fabric of American federal law—criminal and civil law alike—is so vast that a huge number of people and institutions of consequence are ripe for some sort of meddling from authorities.

. . .

What would a president need to do to shift the Justice Department to the crimes or civil infractions committed—or suspected—by Trump critics and opponents? He would need to appoint and get confirmed by the Senate the right attorney general. That's very doable. He'd want to keep his communications with that person limited. An unspoken understanding that the Justice Department's new priorities include crimes by the right sort of people would be better than the sort of chortling communications Richard Nixon and John Mitchell used to have. Want to go after Jeff Bezos to retaliate for the Washington Post's coverage of the campaign? Develop a sudden trust-busting interest in retailers that are "too big"; half the country will be with you. Just make sure you state your non-neutral principles in neutral terms.

Over the weekend, Trump appeared on CBS's Face the Nation and had the following exchange with host John Dickerson, in which he promised to have his attorney general investigate his opponent, Hillary Clinton—and proclaimed her guilty:

DICKERSON: You said Hillary Clinton should go to jail. If the> FBI, which is investigating, if there`s no indictment, will your attorney general go after her?


So, I have spoken to, and I have watched and I have read many, many lawyers onthe> subject, so-called neutral lawyers, OK, not even on one side or the> other, neutral lawyers. Everyone of them, without a doubt, said that what she did is far worse than what other people did, like General Petraeus, who essentially got a two-year jail term.

General Petraeus and others have been treated -- their lives have been in a sense destroyed. She keeps campaigning. What she did is a criminal situation. She wasn`t supposed to do that with the> server and the> e-mails all ofthe> other.

Now, I rely on the> lawyers. These are good lawyers. These are professional lawyers. These are lawyers that know what they`re talking about and know -- are very well-versed on what they did. They say she`s guilty as hell.

DICKERSON: But it sounds like you were making promise for your attorney general that, if you were elected, this is one of the> things -- this is a commitment you were making.

TRUMP: That`s true, yes.

DICKERSON: It`s a commitment to have your attorney general...

TRUMP: Certainly have my -- very fair, but I would have my attorney general look at it.

DICKERSON: Even if the> investigation...


TRUMP: You know you have a five and maybe even a six-year statute of limitation.

DICKERSON: But even if the> current investigations don`t find anything, you would have your attorney general go back at it?

TRUMP: Yes, I would, because everyone knows that she`s guilty.

Now, I would say this. She`s guilty. But I would let my attorney general make that determination. Maybe they would disagree. And I would let that person makethe> determination.

DICKERSON: And what for you exactly is she guilty of?

TRUMP: She`s guilty of the> servers. She`s guilty of -- you look at confidential information, I mean, all of the> information that probably has gotten out all overthe> world.

And then you know what she`s also guilty of? Stupidity and bad judgment.

DICKERSON: But that`s not a -- if that were criminal, we would all be in jail.

TRUMP: No, no, I`m not even saying that part is criminal. But she`s certainly guilty of that.

In terms of this country, she is guilty of having just bad, bad -- how could she do a thing like this?

DICKERSON: But what do you get -- what gets them to jail, though? This is -- what`s the> difference here between rhetoric and law?

TRUMP: What the> lawyers are saying is what she did in terms of national security, we have very strict rules and regulations -- she`s broken all of them.

DICKERSON: So, the> classification issue?

TRUMP: She`s broken all of them. Of course it is. But she`s broken so much.