Trump Thought He Could Personally Prosecute Clinton and Comey


  • Donald Trump once threatened to use his role as president to prosecute his political enemies.
  • A White House attorney had to explain to the then president that he had no such power.
  • The episode was chronicled in “The Divider,” a new book obtained by Insider ahead of its publication.

Former President Donald Trump once required a civics lesson from White House counsel on the limits of his power after he suggested that as president, he could — and would — prosecute his political enemies, according to a new book from Peter Baker of The New York Times and Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

Throughout his tenure, Trump had a penchant for skewering his foes via Twitter takedowns and public lashings. But some of his adversaries irked the then-president so much that he sought a more permanent form of revenge against them.

According to “The Divider,” which Insider obtained ahead of its Sept. 20 publication, Trump frequently pressured Former US Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr to bring criminal charges against his opponents, including Hillary Clinton and former FBI director James Comey.

“At one point in the spring of 2018, Trump instructed [former White House Counsel] Don McGahn to direct Sessions to prosecute Clinton and Comey and, if the attorney general refused, said he would do it himself as president,” Baker and Glasser wrote. “McGahn had to explain that the president had no such power.”

“You can’t prosecute anybody,” McGahn told Trump, according to the book.

McGahn followed up his explanation with an “extraordinary memo” explaining to Trump the illegal nature of using his position as president to go after his political enemies, comparing such a move to that of a dictator, according to the book.

“‘Congress could seek to impeach and remove’ the president if it concluded that he abused the power of intervening in a criminal matter,’ McGahn wrote, using boldface and italics to emphasize his point,” Glasser and Baker wrote.

A spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Several former Trump White House and government officials have since recounted similar stories that suggest the former president was unfamiliar with the logistics of his newfound position.

Earlier this year, Barr said Trump didn’t have a “good idea” of what the roles of the president or Justice Department entitled throughout his time in office.

In the 2021 CIA publication, “Getting to Know the President,” author John L. Helgerson, a former intelligence officer, said Trump was the most difficult incoming president to brief, and an August New York Times report cited intelligence officials who said they often withheld information from Trump for fear of the “damage” he might do if he knew.

Included in “The Divider” is an anecdote about Trump’s former chief of staff John Kelly, whom the authors said purchased a book “to understand the president’s particular psychoses” in an attempt to cope with the former president’s erratic behavior.



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