Donald Trump directly threatened Hillary Clinton with imprisonment during their Sunday debate, saying if he were president, “You’d be in jail.”
The comment drew cheers from Trump supporters in the audience in St. Louis for the live debate. Trump promised that if he is elected president next month, he will ask his Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton’s “situation” – apparently a reference to Clinton’s much-criticized handling of a private email server when she was Secretary of State.
But the reaction was much more critical among journalists and social-media users, who argued that Candidate Trump was signaling his willingness to use the power of his office to punish political opponents.
Let’s be clear: a candidate for president promised to put his opponent in jail if he wins. Everything else is secondary.
— Paul Krugman (@paulkrugman) October 10, 2016
— Jake Horowitz (@jacobdhorowitz) October 10, 2016
Who would consent to serve as Attorney General to a president who believed he could direct prosecutions of his political opponents?
— David Frum (@davidfrum) October 10, 2016
The urge to punish Clinton for alleged misdeeds has been a defining issue of the GOP campaign this year, with cries of “Lock her up!” heard throughout the Republican National Convention this summer.
CNN’s John King called the mention of a special prosecutor part of a “Breitbart strategy” for Trump. Steve Bannon, who has run the Breitbart.com conservative media empire, has in recent weeks taken a prominent role running Trump’s campaign.
Trump could direct his Attorney General to hire a special prosecutor, if it is deemed in the “public interest” to do so and if such an investigation could pose a conflict of interest for the Department of Justice.
The Clintons are no stranger to special prosecutors. Kenneth Starr was an independent counsel appointed in 1994 to investigate the suicide of Vince Foster, a President Clinton deputy, and the Clintons’ handling of the Whitewater real estate transactions. That inquiry eventually led to President Clinton’s impeachment.