According to the New York Times, Trump voiced that desire to White House counsel Don McGahn, who quashed the idea, telling Trump it could lead to his impeachment. As president, Trump had no authority to order the prosecutions; if McGahn made the request, it could lead to allegations that Trump had committed abuses of power, McGahn told him.
McGahn then had Justice Department lawyers write a memo telling Trump what could happen if he ordered the department to investigate or prosecute political rivals, up to and including impeachment.
Still, Trump has continued to discuss the idea in private, including the prospect of appointing a special counsel to investigate Clinton and Comey, the Times reported, citing a former White House official who said Trump repeatedly asked, “Why aren’t they going after them?”
It’s not clear what Trump wanted Clinton and Comey to be prosecuted for, specifically. Trump premised his campaign on Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, alleging, without evidence, that she had compromised national security. During a presidential debate, Trump threatened to jail Clinton over the matter if he became president. (Yesterday, it was reported that Trump’s daughter Ivanka had sent hundreds of emails about government business from a private email account.)
Trump has publicly accused Comey of leaking information from the FBI, without evidence. When he fired Comey, Trump’s original explanation was that Comey had treated Hillary Clinton unfairly during the 2016 campaign. Trump later told NBC’s Lester Holt that he was considering “this Russia thing” when he fired Comey. Special counsel Robert Mueller is now investigating whether Trump committed obstruction of justice with the firing.
Since becoming president, Trump has repeatedly rebelled against the idea that the Justice Department is an independent entity from the Oval Office, not supervised by — or tasked with protecting — the president.
Trump soured on Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he recused himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. (Sessions had worked on the Trump campaign.) That resulted in a public 18-month trial by Twitter, in which Trump tweeted complaints about Sessions before forcing him out and installing a loyalist with a slight résumé, Matthew Whitaker.
Before joining the Trump administration, Whitaker appeared on TV several times criticizing the Mueller probe, calling it a “witch hunt” and suggesting it could be ended by starving it of funds.