Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg said he would expect his Department of Justice to “think for itself” when it comes to a potential prosecution of President Trump for obstruction of justice after Mr. Trump leaves office.
That’s not quite as far as Sen. Kamala D. Harris’s recent statement that the DOJ should prosecute Mr. Trump if he’s not impeached — a sentiment that has gotten pushback from people such as former FBI Director James B. Comey.
“I’m just saying it shouldn’t be ordered up by the president,” Mr. Buttigieg said in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “The whole idea is we’re the ones who don’t believe that a president ought to be going around calling for their political opponents to be targeted for investigations.”
Mr. Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said if there’s suspicion of criminal activity, he would expect a Justice Department that “thinks for itself” to prosecute the activity and hold everyone accountable, with no different treatment for someone because of their political profile.
In a separate interview, he said he thinks the “rule of law” will ultimately catch up to Mr. Trump.
“It doesn’t require the Oval Office putting any kind of thumb on the scale,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I trust the DOJ to reach the right determination, at least the DOJ that I would appoint and set up. And the less that has to do with directives coming out of the White House, the better.”
Ms. Harris, one of Mr. Buttigieg’s rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, recently said that she would want her Justice Department to pursue obstruction of justice charges against Mr. Trump after he leaves office if he’s not impeached.
“I believe that they would have no choice and that they should, yes,” Ms. Harris said in a recent interview with NPR. “There has to be accountability.”
Mr. Buttigieg was asked on CBS if what Ms. Harris said went too far for him.
“I’m thinking about it in terms of the way I would want a DOJ to work on my watch, and part of how it would work is that prosecutorial decisions would not be run out of the Oval Office,” he said. “They would be as far from the political side as possible.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller said recently that he could not exonerate Mr. Trump based on what he found in his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, but cited a standing Justice Department policy that prevents a sitting president from being indicted.
For his part, Mr. Trump dismissed Ms. Harris’ comments as political.
“Oh, give me a break. She’s running for president. She’s doing horribly. She’s way down in the polls,” he said in an interview that aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “Probably if I were running in her position, I’d make the same statement.”
Without naming any specific candidates, Mr. Comey over the weekend warned people vying for public office against engaging in such conversations.
“Political candidates and elected officials should not talk about the future prosecution of any individual,” Mr. Comey tweeted. “Law enforcement decisions must be apolitical.”
Mr. Comey himself announced in July 2016 that while former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was careless in her email practices, no reasonable prosecutor would bring a case charging her with mishandling classified information.
Mr. Barr employed similar logic when he said recently that there’s not a winnable case against Mr. Trump for potential obstruction of justice charges stemming from Mr. Mueller’s probe.
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