Of the many memorable moment’s from Sunday’s debate, the one which seems to have really set the Left on fire was the moment when Hillary Clinton was expressing her relief over the fact that Donald Trump wasn’t “in charge of the law in our country.” To the great applause of most conservatives, Trump interrupted her and said, “because you’d be in jail.” It was probably one of his best lines in an already combative debate and kept with a theme he brought up about appointing a special prosecutor to look into her situation if he’s elected.
Given his typical demeanor on the trail I was genuinely surprised when liberal media spokesmodels and Democrats around the country (but I repeat myself) decided to go to the mat on that one. We’ve seen a series of articles popping up in the ensuing 36 hours accusing Trump of being everything from Hitler to Nixon to a banana republic dictator. Another of these popped up in my reader this morning from Government Executive.
This is not how the presidency works. When Richard Nixon tried to interfere in an ongoing investigation, Attorney General Elliott Richardson resigned. And even if Trump could find a more malleable attorney general, and discard precedent, he’d still lack the power to jail Clinton unilaterally. Presidents are not in charge of the law, but of its faithful execution.
This is also not how democracies work. Elected officials do not jail their foes. The Constitution specifically prohibits bills of attainder—legislation designed to punish individuals, thereby circumventing the judicial process—to bar despotic rulers from persecuting their opponents. The jailing of political opponents is a feature of repressive dictatorships, not vibrant democracies.
The Washington Post trotted out Michael Mukasey, Attorney General under George W. Bush, to jump onto the dog pile.
“It would be like a banana republic,” Mukasey said in an interview Monday with The Washington Post. “Putting political opponents in jail for offenses committed in a political setting, even if they are criminal offenses — and they very well may be — is something that we don’t do here,” he added later.
Hopefully someone has a cold compress and some smelling salts to pass out to these concerned citizens as they head to their fainting couches. But this is yet another example of an empty, nothingburger of a red meat debate line being blown entirely out of proportion to score a few cheap points. The theory being argued against a straw man is obviously true. We don’t lock up our political opponents because we disagree with them. But in the context of the conversation taking place that’s obviously not what Trump was hinting at. He’d been hitting the subject of Clinton’s email server and subsequent FBI investigation over and over again, balancing that with revelations from the email leaks.
When placed in that setting the message was obvious. Trump was implying that if he’d been in charge, the Justice Department would have done a more thorough job and Clinton would have not only been indicted, but convicted and placed in jail. And what of the special prosecutor line? Just because the FBI abandoned their task under Comey, Clinton isn’t protected by any sort of double jeopardy provision because she never went to trial. If sufficient grounds are found (particularly with future potential revelations from leaked emails) to determine that a crime was in fact committed, the case could be opened up again. There were calls going around among House Republicans more than a year ago for Loretta Lynch to appoint a special prosecutor in the case and nobody was making any banana republic charges then.
This is nonsense which boils down to yet another flailing swing by liberals to try to paint Trump in the worst possible light. Of course, that’s pretty much typical of this election cycle so we probably shouldn’t be all that surprised.