In one of the most chilling examples of his well-established fondness for authoritarianism, President Donald Trump reportedly wanted to force a criminal investigation of his political rivals, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former FBI director James Comey.
After Trump told White House officials about his desire to order the Justice Department (DOJ) to investigate Clinton and Comey earlier this year, former White House Counsel Don McGahn warned the president that such a move could potentially lead to his impeachment, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
Though the White House counsel appeared to shut down Trump’s attempts to force investigations of his political rivals, “the president has continued to privately discuss the matter, including the possible appointment of a second special counsel to investigate” Clinton and Comey.
The bombshell Times report also reveals the president may have tried to obstruct Mueller’s probe, which has racked up over 100 criminal charges against dozens of people, including guilty pleas from Trump’s former national security adviser, former campaign manager, and multiple former advisers.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers also privately asked the Justice Department last year to investigate Mr. Comey for mishandling sensitive government information and for his role in the Clinton email investigation. Law enforcement officials declined their requests. Mr. Comey is a witness against the president in the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.
Though McGahn told Trump that he did technically have the authority to order investigations of his political rivals, the DOJ “could refuse to follow Mr. Trump’s orders even before an investigation began, setting off another political firestorm.”
Ultimately, the threat of impeachment was the biggest warning from the White House counsel, as they told the president he “could be voted out of office if voters believed he had abused his power.”
An inspector general investigation found that Comey violated long-standing Justice Department policy during the investigation of Clinton’s supposed email scandal, which dominated coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Amid an FBI investigation of his campaign, Trump fired Comey last year. The president initially claimed Comey’s dismissal was due to his poor treatment of Clinton, but later admitted he fired the FBI director over “this Russia thing.”
Trump’s attempts to meddle in the DOJ’s affairs, which are unparalleled in modern times, provide more context for his firing of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this month. The president appointed Matthew Whitaker, a frequent critic of Mueller’s probe, as acting attorney general.