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Trump wanted to prosecute Hillary Clinton and James Comey – report

The Guardian logo The Guardian 21/11/2018 David Smith in Washington
a man wearing a suit and tie: Report says Donald Trump wanted to prosecute former election rival Hillary Clinton. © AFP/Getty Images Report says Donald Trump wanted to prosecute former election rival Hillary Clinton.

Donald Trump wanted to prosecute former election rival Hillary Clinton and ex-FBI director James Comey but was talked out of it, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

The US president told then White House counsel Don McGahn in the spring that he wanted to order the justice department to bring charges against the pair, the Times said, citing two unnamed people familiar with the conversation.

McGahn wrote a memo to dissuade Trump, noting that the potential consequences for such an action could include impeachment, according to the report.

The New York Times added that Trump has continued to privately discuss the matter, including the possible appointment of a second special counsel to investigate both Clinton and Comey.

The Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith called the news “really another story about how weak Trump is”.

“It’s not news that Trump wants DOJ to investigate or prosecute Clinton or Comey,” Goldsmith tweeted. “He’s long expressed that opinion on Twitter and elsewhere … The President has nearly complete formal authority over DOJ. But the remarkable lesson of the last 2 years is that Trump nonetheless has practically no effective authority to use these tools to harm his political enemies. When it comes to using DOJ, Trump is incompetent and weak.”

“Jack’s got a point,” replied the Georgetown University law professor Marty Lederman, but Lederman noted that the president’s influence over justice department decisions “is informal, not formal – he can threaten removal, but doesn’t have the legal authority to direct prosecutions.

“More importantly,” wrote Lederman, Trump’s influence presumably is now stronger, with [acting attorney general Matt] Whitaker in place.”

Trump’s prosecution hopes emerged in the same week that it was revealed that Ivanka Trump had conducted official business over personal email. In any case it may be too late for the president to prosecute Clinton for the crimes she is accused of committing on Fox News.

“Anything Hillary Clinton did as Secretary of State was more than five years ago,” tweeted the George Washington University law professor Randall Eliason. “The general federal statute of limitations is five years. Trump and Whitaker can’t prosecute Clinton now, even if they wanted to.”

Trump provoked an outcry during a 2016 election debate by telling Clinton that, if he was in charge of the nation’s laws, “you’d be in jail”. After winning the election, he publicly backed away from such threats.

He has accused Comey of illegally leaking classified information without offering evidence to support the claim. Comey is a witness against the president in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged collusion with Russia during the 2016 election.

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