Trump’s Threat To Jail Clinton Smacks Of ‘Tin-Pot Dictators’, Says Legal Experts |The Republican News


The New York Times
Eric H. Holder Jr., with his successor as attorney general, Loretta Lynch, has criticized Donald Trump’s threats against Hillary Clinton.© Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press Eric H. Holder Jr., with his successor as attorney general, Loretta Lynch, has criticized Donald Trump’s threats against Hillary Clinton.  

WASHINGTON — As president of the United States, Donald J. Trump would wield the power to carry out his vow to have a special prosecutor reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails — if not to guarantee his threat to her that “you’d be in jail” if he ran the country.

But the move would take American democracy to a dangerous new place, legal specialists across the ideological spectrum said.

“It’s a chilling thought,” said Michael Chertoff, a former federal appeals court judge who also served as the secretary of Homeland Security and head of the Justice Department’s criminal division in the George W. Bush administration. Mr. Chertoff, who has announced that he will vote for Mrs. Clinton, added, “It smacks of what we read about tin-pot dictators in other parts of the world, where when they win an election their first move is to imprison opponents.”

Early in the debate on Sunday, Mr. Trump brought up the Justice Department’s investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state. That case was closed without charges on the recommendation of the director of the F.B.I., James B. Comey, but Mr. Trump said he would order it reopened.

“If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there has never been so many lies, so much deception,” he said.

In response, Mrs. Clinton accused Mr. Trump of falsely describing the facts of the case, adding: “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”

Mr. Trump shot back: “Because you’d be in jail.”

The assertion by Mr. Trump is taking its place in a litany of statements he has made during the campaign that many legal specialists have portrayed as a threat to the rule of law. Those include his declaration that a judge could not be trusted because of his ethnicity; attacks on the press; and threats to use federal regulators against his critics.

“This is a manifestation of the same tendency to be willing to use the machinery of the state to go after one’s political enemies, which is very dangerous,” said David B. Rivkin Jr., a White House and Justice Department lawyer in the administration of the first President George Bush who has criticized the decision to close the email investigation without charges. “There is nothing historically that would be comparable.”

Under federal regulations, special prosecutors are appointed in sensitive cases where senior officials may have a conflict of interest. The rules empower the attorney general, not the president, to make the appointment, but Mr. Trump is unlikely to name an attorney general who disagrees with him. A likely candidate, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, delivered a prosecutorial-style speech at the Republican National Convention, inviting the audience to declare Mrs. Clinton “guilty” of endangering national security and lying about it.

“It’s a chilling thought,” Michael Chertoff, right, a former judge and secretary of Homeland Security, said of Donald Trump’s vow to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails if he is elected president.© Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call, via Associated Press “It’s a chilling thought,” Michael Chertoff, right, a former judge and secretary of Homeland Security, said of Donald Trump’s vow to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails if he is…  

Presidents also effectively exercise ultimate authority because they can fire cabinet officials who refuse orders. That was what President Richard M. Nixon did in the so-called Saturday Night Massacre of 1973, when he fired the top two officials in the Justice Department because they refused to fire the special prosecutor investigating Watergate.

If Mr. Trump were president, “he has the power to do it, whether it’s a wise thing to do or not,” said Dick Thornburgh, who served as attorney general in the Ronald Reagan and George Bush administrations.

Jonathan H. Adler, a Case Western Reserve University law professor, noted that presidents of both parties had been centralizing control over executive branch decisions in the White House since the 1980s, and portrayed Mr. Trump’s threat as foreshadowing further fraying of institutional checks and balances.

“The appearance of the justice system being used for partisan payback is poisonous,” he said.

Still, several of the conservatives who were critical of Mr. Trump’s threat also drew a parallel to a statement in June 2008 by Eric H. Holder Jr., who was then an adviser to Senator Barack Obama’s campaign and later became attorney general.

In a speech, Mr. Holder denounced the George W. Bush administration as having led the country astray from its “commitment to the Constitution and to the rule of law” after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and declared that “we owe the American people a reckoning.”

But Mr. Obama later made clear that he opposed investigating Bush administration veterans for the torture of terrorism suspects, saying, “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”

Still, Mr. Holder decided in August 2009 to open a narrower investigation into whether the C.I.A. abused detainees in ways that went beyond official policy, reopening cases prosecutors closed without charges under the Bush administration. That investigation ended in 2012 without any new charges.

On his Twitter account Sunday night, Mr. Holder pronounced Mr. Trump “dangerous” and “not qualified.”

“Be afraid of any candidate who says he will order DOJ/FBI to act on his command,” Mr. Holder wrote. Using Mr. Trump’s Twitter account name, he added: “In the USA we do not threaten to jail political opponents. @realDonaldTrump said he would. He is promising to abuse the power of the office.”

In an interview on MSNBC on Monday, Mr. Trump’s running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, rejected a host’s portrayal of the threat as reminiscent of “a third world dictator.”

“Look, I thought that was one of the better moments of the debate last night,” Mr. Pence said, adding: “I think what Donald Trump said is no one’s going to be above the law. There’s going to be no double standards. And he said we’re going to look into and get to the bottom of this, which is, I think, what the American people would fully expect, is an even application of the law.”

Michael B. Mukasey, a former federal judge and attorney general in the George W. Bush administration who has criticized Mrs. Clinton over the email issue, said that if Mr. Trump won, Mr. Obama could eliminate the threat by pre-emptively pardoning her. But he likened Mr. Trump’s threat to what happens in a “banana republic.”

“This is not the way we conduct politics here,” Mr. Mukasey said.

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