CNN is reporting that there is further evidence that President Donald Trump wanted to use his presidential powers to punish his political enemies. “President Donald Trump on multiple occasions raised with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Matt Whitaker, who was then-chief of staff to Jeff Sessions, whether the Justice Department was progressing in investigating Hillary Clinton, according to a source familiar with the matter,” the cable news network reports. “The President also wanted his previous White House counsel, Don McGahn, to ask the Justice Department to prosecute Clinton on numerous occasions, but McGahn rebuffed doing that, the source said.”
Buttressing the CNN account, a New York Times article added that McGahn and other White House lawyers prepared a memo outlining the problems with the president’s preferred course of action. “For starters, Justice Department lawyers could refuse to follow Mr. Trump’s orders even before an investigation began, setting off another political firestorm,” the Times summarizes. “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.”
These accounts seem to confirm some critics’ suspicion that Trump is an instinctively authoritarian president who has been saved from his worst instincts by staff resistance. The open question is whether staff shake-ups will now give Trump a White House more amenable to his autocratic tendencies.