These are the only two precedents for Trump's 'impeachable' effort to jail Clinton and Comey — and they should terrify every American

“I’ve been at the Justice Department twice,” Neal Katyal noted. “Both times, there was one thick red line you knew never to cross, which is to allow the White House any input into criminal prosecutions."

James Comey, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton

President Donald Trump drew widespread criticism after the New York Times reported, on November 20, that he encouraged the U.S. Justice Department to prosecute two of his political enemies: 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey. And attorney Neal Katyal, who served as acting solicitor general under President Barack Obama, is asserting that Trump’s actions are impeachable.

Interviewed by Ari Melber on MSNBC on November 26, Katyal explained, “This is not about politics. This is about the rule of law at its most central essence.”

By urging the Justice Department to jail his political enemies, Katyal stressed, Trump has crossed a dangerous line that merits impeachment.

“I’ve been at the Justice Department twice,” Katyal noted. “Both times, there was one thick red line you knew never to cross, which is to allow the White House any input into criminal prosecutions. Why? Because the power of a prosecutor is so awesome, so mighty. They are literally putting people in jail, and you never want the president or his folks at the White House to be dictating those prosecutorial decisions. And that is how the Justice Department has worked until now.”

Melber noted that President Richard Nixon, in the early 1970s, “misused the executive power, interfering with the FBI.” And he asked Katyal how Nixon’s presidency affects the legal analysis of Trump’s actions with Clinton and Comey.

Katyal responded, “There are two precedents really for what Trump is doing. One is Nixon, and the other is Putin.”

Nixon, Katyal explained, tried to use the federal government to shut down his enemies but was unsuccessful in the end—while Russian President Vladimir Putin has successfully done so in post-Soviet Russia.

Katyal observed, “The White House counsel (Don McGahn), Donald Trump’s top lawyers, said, ‘If you do this, Mr. President, it’s going to lead to or trigger impeachment.’ I mean, that’s remarkable. That’s Trump’s own guy saying it—not just saying it, but writing it down in a memo to the file because he was so worried about what would happen.”

Katyal added that two legal figures who are designed to keep a president ethical are the White House counsel and the attorney general. Trump, Katyal noted, has replaced former White House Counsel Don McGahn with Pat Cipollone and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Matthew Whitaker—and in both cases, he wanted someone who wouldn’t question him.

“The new people are put in there for one reason and one reason only: they’re lackies,” Katyal asserted. “They’re nobodies who will do the president’s bidding, and that is an extraordinarily dangerous thing.”

In order for a president to be removed from office via the impeachment process, he must first be impeached by House of Representatives—followed by a two-thirds conviction in a Senate trial. Only three presidents in U.S. history have faced articles of impeachment in the House: Richard Nixon, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. But Johnson and Clinton were both acquitted in Senate trials—and Nixon, in August 1974, resigned before a Senate trial could come about.

 

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Alex Henderson is a news writer at AlterNet and veteran political journalist. His work has also appeared in Salon, Raw Story, Truthdig, National Memo, Philadelphia Weekly, Democratic Underground, L.A. Weekly, MintPress News and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @alexvhenderson.