Donald Trump
Credit: Evan Guest/Flickr

Donald Trump has only the dimmest idea of how our government is supposed to work, and he cares very little about learning. He probably thought he was being magnanimous and fair when he sent Kellyanne Conway out to announce that he will not be looking to “lock up” Hillary Clinton for either her use of a private email server or the work of the Clinton Foundation. But, as the Washington Post explains, the opposite of politicizing the Justice Department is not telling them what not to investigate and prosecute.

Trump’s apparent decison, conveyed by Kellyanne Conway in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” is a change from his campaign rhetoric, in which he issued incendiary calls for a special prosecutor to reopen the FBI’s closed investigation of Clinton’s use of a private server while secretary of state and had also urged investigations of allegations of corruption at the Clinton Foundation. He nicknamed the Democratic nominee “Crooked Hillary” and encouraged chants of “Lock her up!” at his rallies.

Trump’s decision to pursue or not pursue a criminal investigation from the Oval Office would be an extraordinary break with political and legal protocol, which holds that the attorney general and FBI make decisions on whether to conduct investigations and file charges, free of pressure from the president.

Or, if you prefer a legal scholar to explain this to you:

“The president-elect has demonstrated his complete lack of understanding of how the government makes these kinds of decisions,” said Stephen I. Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “The attorney general answers to the president, but the department is supposed to be independent, especially when it comes to prosecutorial decisions. Any president, especially our next president, needs to both understand and respect that – or else they risk politicizing criminal prosecutions in ways that can be damaging.”

So, the ironic result here is that Trump gets blasted for violating legal protocol by breaking his ludicrous campaign promise to use the Department of Justice to pursue his political opponent to the ends of the Earth.

He really isn’t any good at this Presidenting thing, and it’s unlikely to get any better.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at