WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump told White House attorneys he wanted the Justice Department to prosecute Hillary Clinton and former FBI director James B. Comey, the latest indication the president views the department as a potential weapon to use against political opponents, according to a report.
The New York Times, citing unnamed sources familiar with Trump’s conversation, said the president told former White House counsel Donald F. McGahn in the spring that he wanted the Justice Department to pursue Clinton and Comey.
McGahn, according to the report, rebuffed the request, saying it would prompt critics to claim the president was abusing his power.
The revelation comes weeks after Trump ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom the president frequently criticized for recusing himself from the ongoing probe into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Trump replaced Sessions with Matthew Whitaker, an interim attorney general and ally who has more readily embraced the president’s views.
McGahn left the White House in October.
The report came on what should have been a quiet week heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, when Trump and the Justice Department made a series of high-profile announcements. They released the long-awaited financial-disclosure forms for Whitaker, and the president’s attorneys confirmed late Tuesday that Trump had submitted written answers to questions posed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
“The questions presented dealt with issues regarding the Russia-related topics of the inquiry,” Jay Sekulow, counsel to the president, said in a statement. “The president responded in writing.”
The questions and the answers were pursuant to an agreement between Trump’s attorney’s and Mueller’s office, which is looking into whether the president tried to obstruct the investigation. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said the president refused to entertain questions about alleged obstruction, or any activities since he became president.
“The questions and the answers all related to Russia,” Giuliani said. “The answer is he had no involvement or knowledge of that.”
Trump has repeatedly denied obstruction, and his lawyers argue his actions, including the firing of Comey, were well within the president’s authority.
The Justice Department, meanwhile, released the financial disclosure form from Whitaker, the acting attorney general appointed earlier this month to take over on an interim basis after Sessions’ ouster. Whitaker revised the filing five times after being named to the post the day after the midterm election.
It is unclear whether Trump continued to seek the prosecutions of Clinton and Comey, an idea he has often raised during his political rallies. But the president continued to discuss the idea privately, including the possible appointment of another second special counsel to look into the two foes, according to the Times report.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The disclosure that McGahn advised Trump against seeking a prosecution of Clinton and Comey is sure to refocus attention on the extensive cooperation McGahn has provided to Mueller in his ongoing investigation. That inquiry includes whether Trump sought to obstruct the probe by firing Comey last spring.
McGahn’s interviews with Mueller’s team spanned about 30 hours in total, said a person familiar with the former White House counsel’s contact with the special counsel’s office.
The New York Times first disclosed the extent of McGahn’s cooperation in August.
McGahn’s cooperation with Mueller was extraordinary because it could have been protected in part by executive privilege. Trump waived that privilege, hoping transparency would quicken the pace of Mueller’s investigation and thus, put an end to a query that has put a cloud over his presidency.
The person familiar with McGahn’s communications with Mueller’s team has not elaborated on the contents of his discussions with Mueller’s team, but as counsel to the president McGahn was privy to the most controversial issues involving the White House.
McGahn reportedly told investigators what he knew about the president’s role in the firing of Comey, Trump’s repeated criticism of Sessions and his role in the Russia investigation before the president hired outside counsel to deal with the matter, The Times reported in August.
Trump has since confirmed that he instructed McGahn to “fully cooperate” with Mueller’s team. He also alluded to other members of his staff being interviewed.
“I allowed White House Counsel Don McGahn, and all other requested members of the White House Staff, to fully cooperate with the Special Counsel,” Trump said in August. “In addition we readily gave over one million pages of documents. Most transparent in history. No Collusion, No Obstruction. Witch Hunt!”