Trump’s de­sire for Clin­ton probe goes against norms

The Columbus Dispatch - - Nation&world - By Peter Baker

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump did not need to send a memo or tele­phone his at­tor­ney gen­eral to make his de­sires known. He broad­cast them for all the world to see on Twit­ter. The in­struc­tion was clear: The Jus­tice Depart­ment should in­ves­ti­gate his de­feated op­po­nent from last year’s cam­paign.

How­ever they were de­liv­ered, Trump’s de­mands have ric­o­cheted through the halls of the Jus­tice Depart­ment, where At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions has now or­dered ca­reer prose­cu­tors to eval­u­ate var­i­ous ac­cu­sa­tions against Hil­lary Clin­ton and re­port back on whether a special coun­sel should be ap­pointed to in­ves­ti­gate her.

Ses­sions has made no de­ci­sion, and he may be seek­ing a way out of the bind his boss has put him in by ef­fec­tively putting the mat­ter in the hands of pro­fes­sion­als who were not po­lit­i­cally ap­pointed. But if he or his deputy au­tho­rizes a new in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Clin­ton, it would shat­ter norms es­tab­lished af­ter Water­gate that are in­tended to pre­vent pres­i­dents from us­ing law en­force­ment agen­cies against po­lit­i­cal ri­vals.

The re­quest alone was enough to trig­ger a po­lit­i­cal back­lash, as crit­ics of Trump quickly de­cried what they called “ba­nana repub­lic” pol­i­tics of ret­ri­bu­tion, akin to au­to­cratic back­wa­ter na­tions where elec­tion losers are jailed by win­ners.

“You can be dis­ap­pointed, but don’t be sur­prised,” said Karen Dunn, a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor and White House lawyer un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama who ad­vised Clin­ton dur­ing her cam­paign against Trump. “This is ex­actly what he said he would do: use tax­payer re­sources to pur­sue po­lit­i­cal ri­vals.”

Democrats still vividly re­call Trump on the cam­paign trail vow­ing to pros­e­cute Clin­ton if he won.

“It was alarm­ing enough to chant ‘lock her up’ at a cam­paign rally,” said Brian Fal­lon, who was Clin­ton’s cam­paign spokesman. “It is an­other thing en­tirely to try to weaponize the Jus­tice Depart­ment in order to ac­tu­ally carry it out.”

But con­ser­va­tives said Clin­ton should not be im­mune from scru­tiny as a special coun­sel, Robert Mueller, in­ves­ti­gates Rus­sia’s in­ter­fer­ence in last year’s elec­tion and any ties it may have to Trump’s cam­paign. They ar­gued, for ex­am­ple, that Clin­ton was the one do­ing Rus­sia’s bid­ding in the form of a ura­nium deal ap­proved when she was sec­re­tary of state.

Peter Sch­weizer, whose best-sell­ing book, “Clin­ton Cash,” raised the ura­nium is­sue in 2015, said a special coun­sel would be the best way to ad­dress this mat­ter.

“It of­fers greater in­de­pen­dence from any po­lit­i­cal pres­sures and pro­vides the nec­es­sary tools to hope­fully get to the bot­tom of what hap­pened and why it hap­pened,” said Sch­weizer, whose non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion was co-founded by Steve Ban­non, Trump’s for­mer chief strate­gist.

In 2010, Rus­sia’s atomic en­ergy agency ac­quired a con­trol­ling stake in Ura­nium One, a Cana­dian com­pany that at the time con­trolled 20 per­cent of U.S. ura­nium ex­trac­tion ca­pac­ity. The pur­chase was ap­proved by a gov­ern­ment com­mit­tee that in­cluded rep­re­sen­ta­tives of nine agen­cies, in­clud­ing Clin­ton’s State Depart­ment.

Donors re­lated to Ura­nium One and an­other com­pany it ac­quired con­trib­uted mil­lions of dol­lars to the Clin­ton Foun­da­tion, and Bill Clin­ton re­ceived $500,000 from a Rus­sian bank for a speech. But there is no ev­i­dence that Clin­ton par­tic­i­pated in the gov­ern­ment ap­proval of the deal, and her aides have noted that other agen­cies, in­clud­ing the Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion, signed off on it as well. The com­pany’s ac­tual share of U.S. ura­nium pro­duc­tion has been 2 per­cent; the real ben­e­fit for Rus­sia was se­cur­ing far greater sup­plies of ura­nium from Kaza­khstan.

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