Why Justice Dept. is free of president
Interference could taint investigations
WASHINGTON — The revelation that Presidentelect Donald Trumpdoes not intend to seek a new investigation into Hillary Clinton was startling not only because it seemed to reverse a campaign pledge.
It also suggested Trump might think that it’s his decision to make, reflecting an apparent lack of regard for the independence of the Justice Department, which is responsible for conducting investigations without the influence or opinion of the White House.
Trump on Tuesday told reporters and editors of The New York Times: “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons; I really don’t,” despite having said during the campaign that he’d seek a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton and that she’d be in jail if he were elected.
Some questions and answers about how the White House and Justice Department interact — and how the system works:
Q: Do presidents oversee investigations of the Justice Department? A: Definitely not. Long-standing protocol dictates that the FBI and Justice Department operate free of political influence or meddling from the White House. That’s one reason that the FBI director serves a 10-year term and does not turn over the reins as presidential administrations come and go. It also means that presidents are not supposed to supervise, initiate or stop law enforcement investigations.
White House officials and Justice Department lawyers aren’t even meant to talk with each other about ongoing criminal investigations or civil enforcement actions, though there is leeway granted for matters of national security, including terrorism.
Trump said during the Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., is Donald Trump’s pick to follow Attorney General Loretta Lynch. campaign that he would have his attorney general appoint a special prosecutor to look into Clinton, though such an appointment ultimately rests with the attorney general. On Tuesday, he said he was not inclined to continue with an investigation of Clinton “for whatever power I have on the matter.”
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for attorney general, has expressed an appreciation for the independent nature of the job. He asked Loretta Lynch during her confirmation hearing as attorney general last year if she was “able and willing to tell the presi- dent of the United States noif he asks permission or a legal opinion that supports an action you believe is wrong?”
Lynch said she was.
Q: Why is the Justice Department’s independence so important?
A: Justice Department officials have long considered it imperative that their investigations not be politicized or tainted by suspicions of interference by the White House or other elected leaders.
Any hint of political meddling could undermine public faith in the legitimacy of an investigation. It could raise the prospect that a person is being investigated, or is being spared from investigation, on the whims of political considerations rather than evidence of guilt or innocence.
Q: Does that meanpresidents have never weighed in publicly on ongoing matters?
A: The White House has typically balked at questions about the status of Justice Department investigations. But officials, including the current president, haven’t always abided by that firewall.
President Barack Obama caused a stir in 2014 when he