WASHINGTON: Two chants emerged as hallmarks of Donald Trump’s campaign rallies as he made his improbable run for the White House.
One was “Build the wall!” and the other was “Lock her up!”
The plan for a wall on the border with Mexico has been slow getting off the ground, but Trump as president has revived the rallying cry for the prosecution of Hillary Clinton.
The move has set off alarm bells in Washington and sparked accusations that Trump, by focusing on his defeated rival, is seeking to divert attention from the widening probe into his own campaign’s alleged ties with Russia.
The Washington Post compared it in an editorial to something one would see in a “banana republic,” while The Wall Street Journal said Trump is “crossing dangerous legal and political lines.”
“Mr. Trump is clearly frustrated that the Russia collusion story is engulfing his own family,” the Journal said. “But that frustration has now taken a darker turn.
“Mr. Trump’s suggestion that his Attorney General prosecute his defeated opponent is the kind of crude political retribution one expects in Erdogan’s Turkey or Duterte’s Philippines,” the newspaper said.
In a series of tweets since the weekend, Trump has repeatedly attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of his earliest supporters but now possibly on his way out, for failing to aggressively go after Clinton.
“Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes,” Trump said Tuesday, suggesting that an investigation should be reopened into her use of a private email server while secretary of state.
Besides criticizing Sessions for failing to go after Clinton, Trump has expressed frustration with his decision to recuse himself from the probe into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Trump has denounced the Russia investigation, now in the hands of a special counsel, former FBI director Robert Mueller, as a political witch hunt and questioned why the media and investigators have not focused equivalent resources or attention on Clinton’s alleged misdeeds.
“So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered (attorney general), looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?” the president said.
Several members of Trump’s own Republican Party have leapt to Sessions’ defense and denounced Trump’s bid to get the attorney general to open a criminal probe of Clinton.
“Prosecutorial decisions should be based on applying facts to the law without hint of political motivation,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina.
“To do otherwise is to run away from the long-standing American tradition of separating the law from politics regardless of party,” Graham said.
Richard Painter, who served as White House chief ethics lawyer under president George W. Bush, went so far as to say that Trump’s call for Clinton’s prosecution was an “impeachable offense.”
“Pressuring (the attorney general) to prosecute the person who lost the election is an impeachable offense if we value free elections,” Painter said on Twitter.
FBI director James Comey determined last year — and announced four months before the November election — that while Clinton had been negligent in her email practices, no crime had been committed.
Trump’s renewed push for an investigation into Clinton is a reversal of the position he took in an interview with The New York Times two weeks after winning the presidential vote.
“I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t,” Trump said then. “She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways, and I’m not looking to hurt them at all.”
If Trump does somehow manage to get the Justice Department to open an investigation into Clinton it’s unlikely it would involve Sessions — assuming he manages to keep his job.
The former senator from Alabama, who served as a surrogate for Trump during the campaign, said he would recuse himself from any eventual investigation of the Democratic presidential candidate.
Sessions also told his Senate confirmation hearing in January that the United States is a country that “does not punish its political enemies.”
Trump’s push for a renewed probe of Clinton did draw support from Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group.
“No one’s out to get the Clintons per se, but the American people want to be assured that there’s been a straightforward investigation by the Justice Department and FBI,” Fitton said in an interview with the Fox Business Network.
“We need a new set of eyes looking at this and the president’s right to call for it,” he said.