President Donald Trump on multiple occasions raised with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Matt Whitaker, who was then-chief of staff to Jeff Sessions, whether the Justice Department was progressing in investigating Hillary Clinton, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The President also wanted his previous White House counsel, Don McGahn, to ask the Justice Department to prosecute Clinton on numerous occasions, but McGahn rebuffed doing that, the source said.
Anticipating the question about Clinton would be raised, Whitaker came prepared to answer with what Justice was doing on Clinton-related matters, including the Clinton Foundation and Uranium One investigations, the source said. The source added that Whitaker was trying to appease the President, but did not seem to cross any line.
The New York Times first reported on Trump’s requests to McGahn to prosecute Clinton, as well as former FBI Director James Comey.
Reached Tuesday by CNN analyst Josh Campbell — who formerly served as an aide to Comey at the FBI — the fired director said he was shaking his head at reports the President wanted the Justice Department to investigate him, Campbell said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”
“This is what had him worried then. This is what he’s been so vocal about now and speaking out,” Campbell said.
Campbell said Comey noted that he was pleased The New York Times made clear in its story that he had not divulged classified information, a claim Trump and his allies have made.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
In March, then-Attorney General Sessions revealed that Utah’s top federal prosecutor, John Huber, was looking into allegations that the FBI abused its powers in surveilling a former Trump campaign adviser, and claims that more should have been done to investigate Clinton’s ties to a Russian nuclear energy agency, which have not been proven.
And in January, CNN reported that the US attorney and FBI in Arkansas were investigating allegations of corruption related to the Clinton Foundation. The FBI and federal prosecutors are looking into whether donors to the foundation were improperly promised policy favors or special access to Clinton while she was secretary of state in exchange for donations to the charity’s coffers, as well as whether tax-exempt funds were misused, the official said. A spokesman for Clinton dismissed the allegations as unfounded.
William Burck, a lawyer for McGahn, issued a statement following the Times report that said the President hadn’t ordered prosecutions of Clinton or Comey.
“Mr. McGahn will not comment on his legal advice to the president. Like any client, the president is entitled to confidentiality. Mr. McGahn would point out, though, that the president never, to his knowledge, ordered that anyone prosecute Hillary Clinton or James Comey,” Burck said.
The White House did not immediately respond to CNN’s requests for comment.
When Trump requested the investigations in April, McGahn told the President that he could not compel the Justice Department to prosecute people, and even requesting an investigation could be a step too far, the Times reported. McGahn went on to have White House lawyers draft a memo listing the consequences of such a demand for Trump, according to the report.
Trump has long called for legal action against Clinton, his Democratic rival in 2016, over her private email use as secretary of state, and he has alleged that Comey, who he fired as FBI director last year, leaked classified information.
McGahn left the White House in October, a long-planned departure that followed a tenure marked in part by friction with the President.
Whitaker, meanwhile, was tapped as acting attorney general over Rosenstein after Trump fired Sessions earlier this month. Democrats have decried Whitaker’s appointment in part because of his previous comments criticizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which he now supervises.
Trump said during his campaign that he would seek to use the presidency to direct an investigation against Clinton, and since taking office he has repeatedly railed against the Justice Department for the special counsel investigation’s focus on his associates rather than investigations into his political opponents.
Trump engaged in a war of words with Sessions several months before the Alabama Republican was fired, and the President said on Twitter that Sessions should investigate Democrats and “Comey lies.”
CNN reported prior to McGahn’s official exit that Trump was unnerved about the extent of McGahn’s personal cooperation with Mueller’s investigation — cooperation that included some 30 hours of interviews with Mueller’s team.
But McGahn’s time in the White House also saw him in a central role shaping the federal judiciary and helping to shepherd Trump’s picks for the Supreme Court through the Senate.