White House Won’t Rule Out Pardon to Protect Clinton From Trump

  • Republican struck a conciliatory tone in victory speech
  • Trump threatened Democrat with jail during presidential debate

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concedes the presidential election in New York on Nov. 9, 2016.

Photographer: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg

The White House on Wednesday wouldn’t rule out issuing a pardon to protect Hillary Clinton from prosecution by the incoming administration over her use of a private e-mail server.

President-elect Donald Trump threatened during his campaign to assign a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton. He blamed a “rigged system” for protecting her from prosecution after FBI director James Comey announced in July and again on Nov. 6, two days before the election, that his agency wouldn’t seek charges against the Democrat.

“You’d be in jail,” Trump memorably warned Clinton during their final debate.

Asked whether President Barack Obama might issue Clinton a pardon before he leaves office in January, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration doesn’t discuss such cases in advance. Earnest indicated Obama was hopeful a pardon wouldn’t be necessary, noting that Trump was gracious toward Clinton in his victory speech early Wednesday morning.

“We’ve got a long tradition in this country of people in power not using the criminal justice system to exact political revenge,” Earnest said. “We go to great lengths to insulate our criminal justice system from partisan politics.”

‘Lock Her Up’

Crowds at Trump’s rallies frequently chanted “lock her up” when the Republican mentioned Clinton’s name. Trump would occasionally join them.

On Wednesday, as he claimed victory in the presidential race, Trump complimented Clinton for her campaign and her public service. “Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country,” he said.

Comey said in July that Clinton and her aides were “extremely careless” in handling classified information, but that criminal prosecution wasn’t warranted. The Justice Department agreed.

But proactively offering a pardon isn’t unprecedented. In 1974, Gerald Ford gave former president Richard Nixon a full and unconditional pardon for any crimes he might have committed while in the Oval Office.

That move, derided by critics, underscored the political risks of such a move. Ford lost re-election to Democrat Jimmy Carter. Obama and Clinton are in a less perilous situation; Obama cannot run for president again, and Clinton’s political career is also likely over.

Not a Priority

Trump allies on Wednesday suggested prosecuting Clinton wouldn’t be a priority for the Republican as he begins his tenure in the White House.

Representative Sean Duffy of Wisconsin said on CNN’s “New Day” that Trump will focus on other issues important to voters, such as the economy. “The sentence and the conviction came last night in the vote,” Duffy said.

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, said the issue wasn’t discussed with the Democratic nominee when Clinton called Trump to concede the election.

“You heard his own words last night -- to the extent that one man can as president, certainly Vice President Pence who’s phenomenal, they’re looking to unify the country,” Conway said. “But we haven’t discussed that in recent days. And I think that it’s all in good time.”