Former President Donald Trump has vowed to unleash federal prosecutors on critics if he wins reelection next year in what he frames as retaliation for his own criminal woes.
The once-and-maybe-future president openly admitted that he would order authorities to prosecute his rivals, a move that would amount to a dramatic break with a bedrock principle of the American legal system.
“If I happen to be president and I see somebody who’s doing well and beating me very badly, I say: ‘Go down and indict them,’” Trump told the Spanish-language Univision network in an interview aired Thursday night. “They’d be out of business. They’d be out of the election.”
Trump asserted that unleashing federal prosecutors and the FBI on his political opponents would be only fair because he has been indicted in four separate cases and is facing 91 felony counts.
“They’ve released the genie out of the box,” the former president said. “You know, when you’re president and you’ve done a good job and you’re popular, you don’t go after them so you can win an election.”
Trump did not name those rivals whom he would put in the legal crosshairs if he finds a way back to the White House in the 2024 vote, but he has previously floated charges against Gen. Mark Milley, Hillary Clinton and President Biden, among others.
Trump has long told allies that he plans to dispense with legal and political niceties in a potential second term and proceed with a campaign of “retribution” for what he sees as his own persecution by liberal prosecutors.
To facilitate Trump’s plans, pro-Trump legal figures have drafted plans that would jettison Justice Deparment policies intended to prevent political consideration from driving criminal prosecutions.
“If they follow through on this, yeah, it could certainly happen in reverse,” Trump said.
Independent legal analysts say Trump’s claims that prosecutors have unfairly targeted him are false. They note that special counsel Jack Smith acts independently of U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Biden has no role in his prosecutions.
They warn that Trump’s plan to use the justice system to exact revenge against political opponents is extremely dangerous and potentially unconstitutional.
Trump has said Milley should face potential execution for treason, in part because the former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff suggested he would not allow Trump to use nuclear weapons after the Jan. 6 attack in the final days of Trump’s presidency.
Even though he had four years to probe Hillary Clinton, Trump now says the former Democratic presidential candidate should be jailed for supposedly using a private email server during her time as secretary of state.
Trump has also said he would name a special counsel to investigate the “Biden family,” although Special Counsel David Weiss already has the authority to investigate any alleged crimes related to presidential son Hunter Biden.
Special Counsel Robert Hur was appointed by Garland to probe separate allegations that Biden mishandled classified documents. Trump admits intentionally keeping hundreds of secret documents and refusing to return them to the feds, while Biden notified authorities as soon as a handful of documents were uncovered by staffers and cooperated.