Trump’s desire for Clinton probe goes against norms
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.