Presidential Debate

Trump's Call for Clinton's Prosecution Is Only Deemed 'Outrageous' Because of the Target

The nominee can protect herself with ease. What about everyday Americans?


Debate coverage
Richard B. Levine/Newscom

Some of the post-debate punditry from last night is particularly outraged by this promise from Donald Trump in regards to Hillary Clinton's scandal over her private server and emails:

If I win, I'm going to instruct the attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there's never been so many lies, so much deception.

Never been anything like it and we're going to have a special prosecutor. When I speak, I go out and speak, the people of this country are furious. In my opinion, the people that have been long-term workers at the FBI are furious. There has never been anything like this, where e-mails and you get a subpoena and after getting the subpoena, you delete 33,000 e-mails and then acid watch them or bleach them. A very expensive process, so we're going to get a special prosecutor because people have been, their lives have been destroyed for doing one fifth of what you've done. And it's a disgrace and honestly, you ought to be ashamed.

Clinton responded by commenting that it is good that somebody with Trump's "temperament" is not in charge or the law in the United States, and Trump shot back, "Because you'd be in jail."

This exchange has led to "Oh my God, Trump wants to jail his political enemies, and this is further proof he wants to turn America into a banana republic" punditry and some analysis of how a president might be able to abuse executive power.

I have absolutely no doubt that Trump idolizes strongman-style leaders. He's made it abundantly clear that he cares only about "getting things done" and has no concern—or even grasp—of the limitations of the president.

Nevertheless, the pearl-clutching response to this deliberately ignores the very real anger over how Clinton seems to have been treated differently by the same Department of Justice that tends to throw the book at "normal" Americans. In actuality, even Trump knows full well he can't just send Clinton to a prison cell. He said he's going to investigate her. He believes she'll end up in jail as a result of this investigation. And as Jacob Sullum noted earlier, Clinton remains remarkably insouciant about the reality of how potentially serious her private email server scandal was.

Lost in the massive media blitz that began on Friday over Trump's disgusting way of talking about women was the fact that Jeffrey Hurant, the CEO of gay escort site, would plead guilty to federal charges of promoting prostitution and would not appeal the government's demand that he fork over $10 million in revenue the site had earned.

Hurant is not accused of doing anything more than facilitating consensual sexual contact between men. When the Department of Homeland Security first helped the New York Police shut them down, there was no evidence of human trafficking or nonconsensual activity. But they were also making a lot of money, and that's exactly what the government jumped at, immediately attempting to seize Rentboy's profits. And they've succeeded.

Why is there more outrage about Trump wanting to have Clinton investigated by the Department of Justice than there is about how the DOJ and federal government treats everybody else? Note that later in this same debate Clinton said that she wanted to have a special prosecutor to examine trade deals between the companies within the United States and other countries:

First of all, China is illegally dumping steel in the United States and Donald is buying it to build his buildings. That is something I fought against as a senator and I would have a trade prosecutor to make sure we don't get taken advantage of by China, on steel or anything else.

So is she going to go after China, or Trump, here? She has said before, repeatedly, that she wants a prosecutor that answers directly to the president, to intervene in these trade cases. Will this prosecutor be targeting the countries or American businesses who "take advantage" of sweet deals? Why is this less of a source of outrage?

And in the debate, Clinton again emphasized her desire to name Supreme Court justices that were inclined to strike down the Citizens United decision. While opponents of that ruling insist on casting the decision as about the influence of "dark money" on politics, the reality of the case was that it was about the right to produce and air a documentary that was critical of Clinton herself. Let's be clear that one of the potential consequences of overturning this decision could very well lead to the criminalization of certain types of privately funded political speech. That sounds pretty "banana republic" to me.

Lest our readers forget, Reason itself has been targeted by prosecutors with political agendas in just the past two years, both in attempts to attack speech that questions climate change science or to go after commenters who say unkind things about a drug war-promoting judge.

By all means be outraged by Trump threatening to send the Justice Department after Clinton. But all he's doing here is threatening to treat her the same way the government treats the rest of us. That's where the real outrage should be focused.