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Buttigieg: My DOJ, not White House, would determine whether to prosecute Trump for obstruction

CNN logo CNN 6/15/2019 By Caroline Kelly, CNN
Peter Buttigieg wearing a suit and tie: SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 01: Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the California Democrats 2019 State Convention at the Moscone Center on June 01, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Several Democratic presidential candidates are speaking at the California Democratic Convention that runs through Sunday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 01: Democratic presidential candidate South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during the California Democrats 2019 State Convention at the Moscone Center on June 01, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Several Democratic presidential candidates are speaking at the California Democratic Convention that runs through Sunday. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg says that if elected, he would not direct his Department of Justice to prosecute the President over possible obstruction of justice charges outlined in the Mueller report.

CNN's Jake Tapper asked Buttigieg in an interview set to air Sunday on "State of the Union" whether he agreed with fellow 2020 hopeful California Sen. Kamala Harris' assessment that her Justice Department would have no choice but to go forward with obstruction of justice charges against President Donald Trump. Buttigieg replied that his Justice Department would "be empowered to reach its own conclusions," and the less he would be involved as president, "the better."

"Two things are true and clear," the South Bend, Indiana, mayor said. "One: Nobody is above the law. And two: The prosecutorial process should have nothing to do with politics. The less this has to do with the President, the better."

The redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report did not make a decision on obstruction, but the 448-page report said that investigators also could not clear Trump of obstruction of justice and outlined several potential instances of obstruction. Mueller said publicly late last month that indicting Trump while in office was "not an option we could consider," adding, "If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so."

Harris has said that she anticipates the Justice Department prosecuting Trump should she or any Democrat beat him in 2020.

"I believe that they would have no choice and that they should, yes. There has to be accountability," Harris said when asked on the NPR Politics podcast released Wednesday morning if she would want the Justice Department to go forward with obstruction of justice charges against Trump after he leaves office.

Buttigieg argued that while Trump's behavior would likely prompt legal prosecution on its own merits, the Justice Department, not the White House, should make that determination.

"Right now, we have a President who seems to think that the president can just dictate what the DOJ is going to do, call for political opponents to be jailed," Buttigieg told Tapper. "I believe that the rule of law will catch up to this President. It doesn't require the Oval Office putting any kind of thumb on the scale."

He added: "I trust the DOJ to make the right determinations, at least the DOJ that I would appoint and set up. And the less that has to do with directives coming out of the White House, the better."

When pressed on whether he disagreed with Harris, Buttigieg said he was "just speaking to how I view the issue."

"But, again, I think we can maintain these two principles: that nobody is above the law, and that prosecution decisions should have nothing to do with politics and should come from the DOJ itself, not from the Oval," he said.

Harris' national press secretary, Ian Sams, responded on Twitter to Buttigieg's characterization of his stance in comparison to Harris,' pointing to Buttigieg's comments to The Atlantic earlier this week that appeared to back an investigation of Trump.

"To the extent that there's an obstruction case, then yes, DOJ's got to deal with it," Buttigieg told The Atlantic, adding, "I would want any credible allegation of criminal behavior to be investigated to the fullest."

While the comment appeared at odds with what the mayor told Tapper, the Atlantic later wrote in that same article that "Buttigieg said he'd be wary of actively directing his attorney general to pursue charges against the president."

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