Former George W. Bush administration attorney general Alberto Gonzales on Wednesday criticized President Trump following a report that Trump sought to prosecute two of his political adversaries, calling it “a very, very serious situation.”
Gonzales was speaking on CNN one day after the New York Times reported that Trump told then-White House counsel Donald McGahn in the spring that he wanted the Justice Department to prosecute former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and former FBI director James B. Comey.
“We live in a democracy, and you don’t go after political rivals,” Gonzales said.
McGahn, who reportedly had White House lawyers draft a memo to Trump cautioning him against using the Justice Department to investigate anyone, successfully “did his job” as White House counsel, Gonzales said.
He added that while political opponents might warrant investigation if they do something criminal, “even then, you do so very, very carefully, because of possible allegations that you’re doing something, you’re going after your political rivals for no reason whatsoever.”
“I think it’s a very, very serious situation, one that requires a delicate touch,” he said.
Clinton was Trump’s 2016 White House rival, while Comey has become one of the president’s most vocal critics.
A lawyer for McGahn told the New York Times that Trump “never, to [McGahn’s] knowledge, ordered that anyone prosecute Hillary Clinton or James B. Comey.”
On CNN, Gonzales noted that Trump ultimately did not act to investigate Comey or Clinton. “My sense is this president often says things that reflect frustration and maybe a little bit of desperation, but nothing really comes of it,” Gonzales said.
Alan Dershowitz, an informal Trump adviser and emeritus professor at Harvard Law School, also rebuked the president Wednesday in the wake of the report.
“It’s a terrible mistake; you don’t want to weaponize the political differences,” Dershowitz said on “Fox & Friends,” although he added that he did not believe such a move would be grounds for impeachment.
“If you don’t like what people have done, run against them,” Dershowitz said. “Use political weapons; do not use the criminal justice system.”
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, who also joined a television panel to discuss the New York Times report, told CNN’s John Berman that going after someone’s personal well-being by a criminal prosecution “is a level that Richard Nixon never went to.”
“If I had to channel a little of Richard Nixon, I think he’d tell this president he’s going too far,” Dean said, adding that after listening to all the Watergate tapes, “I heard [Nixon] break the law; I never heard him do it by turning on his enemies and trying to put them in jail.”