“Trump’s Promise to Jail Clinton Is a Threat to American Democracy”

Yoni Appelbaum in The Atlantic:

You know,” Clinton later responded, “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.” Trump couldn’t resist. “Because you would be in jail,” he broke in.

This is not how special prosecutors work. There are a number of legal mechanisms for the appointment of special counsel by the attorney general, all designed to allow for investigations of executive-branch officials free from the threat of political interference. Trump proposed the opposite: directing his attorney general to appoint a prosecutor to go after a political rival who he’s publicly said should “be in jail.”

This is not how the presidency works. When Richard Nixon tried to interfere in an ongoing investigation, Attorney General Elliott Richardson resigned. And even if Trump could find a more malleable attorney general, and discard precedent, he’d still lack the power to jail Clinton unilaterally. Presidents are not in charge of the law, but of its faithful execution.

This is also not how democracies work. Elected officials do not jail their foes. The Constitution specifically prohibits bills of attainder—legislation designed to punish individuals, thereby circumventing the judicial process—to bar despotic rulers from persecuting their opponents. The jailing of political opponents is a feature of repressive dictatorships, not vibrant democracies.

But it is fully in keeping with how Trump’s campaign has worked. He accepted the nomination in Cleveland in July. The defining chant of that convention was not, “Make America Great Again.” It was “Lock Her Up!”

And on Sunday, that’s exactly what Trump vowed to do.

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