The likelihood of President Obama pardoning the Benghazi bungler, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, just went up.
That’s because President-Elect Donald Trump appears to be executing a head-fake.
It’s probably political theater aimed at calming down Clinton’s people and the media and healing the nation after an unusually nasty election cycle.
On Tuesday, the politically astute businessman suggested his incoming administration will not go after Clinton for her alleged years of corruption in office and brazen criminal wrongdoing.
It is an empty promise. He can’t be held to it because it is meaningless.
Short, perhaps, of pardoning her himself, Trump can’t definitively state that Clinton won’t be further investigated or prosecuted.
A president doesn’t have that kind of power. He is not the sole arbiter of her fate.
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“It does seem like an extraordinary breach of protocol for him to get involved in that decision,” said former federal prosecutor Glen A. Kopp, a partner with Bracewell LLP (which until January of this year was known as Bracewell & Giuliani). “I know of no recent circumstances when the president ordered an attorney general not to pursue a criminal matter.”
Kopp’s right. The FBI and the Department of Justice are supposed to be insulated from political influence. A president doesn’t normally direct the FBI to drop a case.
Even if Trump doesn’t want to proceed, somebody else may take action if the case against Clinton is deemed strong. Congress can keep on investigating her just as prosecutors at the federal, state, and local level can keep on doing the same.
But those fans of the imperial presidency at The New York Times seem to be treating Trump’s vague statement about Clinton’s future as if her exoneration were a fait accompli. They did the same thing when FBI Director James Comey declined to recommend charges against her.
In the words of the Old Gray Lady’s reporters, Trump said “that he has no intention of directing investigations into his former rival’s use of a private email server or the financial operations at the Clinton family’s global foundation.”
“I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t,” the president-elect was quoted saying. “She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways, and I am not looking to hurt them at all. The campaign was vicious.”
Unlike immigration or health care, “it’s not something that I feel very strongly about,” he said. “This has been a very painful period of time.”
Clinton used hacker-friendly home-brew email servers while she was the top U.S. diplomat and foreign intelligence agencies may have helped themselves to secret U.S. government documents. The servers are at the heart of the scandal over Clinton’s apparent mishandling of an Islamic terrorist attack in militant-infested Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, that left four Americans, including U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens, dead.
The fact that those close to Clinton destroyed email evidence — evidence subject to a congressional subpoena, no less — is already evidence in itself that she obstructed justice through spoliation of evidence. Spoliation means you can take as evidence the fact that evidence has been destroyed. Courts are entitled to draw spoliation inferences and convict an accused person on that basis alone. And then she lied over and over and over again about what she did and what she said during investigations.
Add to this the fact that we have seen only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the corruption and slime surrounding the bribe processing vehicle known as the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. There is so much more evidence available. Any state in which the foundation conducted business could take action.
Then there is the vast left-wing conspiracy carried out by the Democratic National Committee to foment violence at Trump campaign rallies. Top Clinton organizer Robert Creamer admitted on undercover video that Hillary was well aware of this illicit effort to undermine the democratic process.
So it would be wise to take the effusive magnanimity emanating from President-Elect Trump with a grain of salt.
Remember that this is the same man who said it’s a terrible idea to let the other side know your intentions and who just weeks ago brought audiences to their feet across the country as his supporters chanted “Lock her up!”
It was just Oct. 9, during the second presidential debate that Trump said to Clinton, “If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there’s never been so many lies, so much deception.”
Why would the president-elect perform such an abrupt, dramatic about-face?
The short answer is he probably wouldn’t, especially when his promise to hold Clinton to account was a big part of his campaign platform. He doesn’t want the Hillary issue to hover over him as he assembles his administration and gets down to work on Inauguration Day. It would be a huge distraction.
Trump is a gifted showman and this is a show. It’s probably political theater aimed at calming down Clinton’s people and the media and healing the nation after an unusually nasty election cycle.
Despite her inept campaign and at times painful political tone-deafness, Clinton is no dummy. She knows if she doesn’t secure a pardon in the next few weeks while her party controls the White House she’ll never get one.
And Obama is no dimwit either. He doesn’t want investigators doing a deep dive into the email scandal because he is implicated in it.
Trump is almost two months away from assuming the awesome burden of the presidency and he’s already thinking several steps ahead of his adversaries.
Matthew Vadum is senior vice president at Capital Research Center.