According to a New York Times article published on November 20, President Donald Trump told the White House counsel in the spring that he wanted to order the Justice Department to prosecute two of his political opponents: his 2016 challenger, Hillary Clinton, and the former FBI director James Comey. Donald McGahn, a Justice Department lawyer, rebuffed the President, saying that he had no authority to order prosecution. McGahn noted that while he could request an investigation, that could prompt accusations of abuse of power. To underscore his point, McGahn had White House lawyers write a memo for President Trump warning that if he asked law enforcement to investigate his rivals, he could face a range of consequences, including possible impeachment.
A White House spokesman declined to comment on the allegations, stating that they are false and without any factual basis. A spokeswoman for the FBI declined to comment on the president’s criticism of Wray, whom he appointed last year after firing James Comey. “Mr. McGahn will not comment on his legal advice to the president,” said McGahn’s lawyer, William A. Burck. “Like any client, the president is entitled to confidentiality. McGahn would point out, though, that the President never, to his knowledge, ordered that anyone prosecute Hillary Clinton or James Comey.”
It is not clear which accusations President Donald Trump wanted prosecutors to pursue. He has accused Former FBI director James Comey, without evidence, of illegally having classified information shared with The New York Times in a memo that Comey wrote about his interactions with the President. The document contained no classified information. President Trump’s lawyers also privately asked the Justice Department last year to investigate Comey for mishandling sensitive government information and for his role in the Clinton email investigation.
In his conversation with McGahn, President Trump asked what stopped him from ordering the Justice Department to investigate James Comey and Hillary Clinton. He did have the authority to ask the Justice Department to investigate, McGahn said but warned that making such a request could create a series of problems. McGahn promised to write a memo outlining the President’s authorities in terms of investigating political opponents. In the days that followed, lawyers in the White House Counsel’s Office wrote a several-page document in which they strongly cautioned President Trump against asking the Justice Department to investigate anyone. The lawyers laid out a series of consequences. For starters, Justice Department lawyers could refuse to follow Trump’s orders even before an investigation began, setting off another political firestorm. If charges were brought, judges could dismiss them. And Congress, they added, could investigate the President’s role in a prosecution and begin impeachment proceedings. Ultimately, the lawyers warned, President Trump could be voted out of office if voters believed he had abused his power.