As President-elect Donald Trump readies his administration for his Jan. 20 inauguration, he’s being asked whether he’ll keep some of his more controversial campaign promises.
On Tuesday, a top advisor cleared up one unknown—whether Trump will push for further investigation of his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. The answer? No.
Early Tuesday morning, MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski reported on “Morning Joe” that a “source with direct knowledge of Donald Trump’s thinking” said the incoming administration does not plan to pursue an investigation of Clinton for her use of a private email server while secretary of State or for questions surrounding the Clinton Foundation. During the campaign, Trump had repeatedly called for probes of these matters and “Lock her up” became a rallying cry of his supporters.
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In a later appearance on the show, Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager and senior advisor, was asked whether Trump would also encourage Republicans in Congress to stay away from investigations of Clinton, and in answering, she confirmed MSNBC’s earlier report. “I think when the president-elect who’s also the head of your party now tells you before he’s even inaugurated he doesn’t wish to pursue these charges it sends a very strong message—tone and content—to the members.”
Conway’s statements certainly indicate a shift in Trump’s tone, but it’s important to remember that a president does not have the power to direct or order such an investigation. That legal authority lies with the attorney general, who exercises independent discretion and does not merely act on the president’s whims.
The FBI investigated Clinton’s handling of classified information as it related to her private email server, but it ended the probe in July with no charges. Last month, FBI director James Comey said the agency had uncovered a new trove of emails connected to its earlier investigation, which threw an unexpected twist into the last days of the campaign. Two days before the vote, he said the new messages contained new evidence that Clinton should face charges.
Conway’s statement was a stark departure from Trump’s campaign rhetoric, in which he harped on Clinton’s email scandal as evidence of her dishonesty and lack of judgment. He repeatedly referred to her as “crooked Hillary” and during the second presidential debate vowed that under his administration she would be imprisoned.
“If I win I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation—there has never been so many lies and so much deception,” he told Clinton when they faced off in October.
In the exchange, Clinton said it was “awfully good” that someone with the temperament of Trump was not in charge of the country, which prompted Trump to quip: “Because you’d be in jail.”
In downplaying that promise on Tuesday, Conway indicated that Trump was more focused on his legislative agenda, parts of which he described in a YouTube video Monday night.
Ever since Trump won the Nov. 8 election, the media, lawmakers, and American voters have wondered whether the businessman will govern like he campaigned—flamboyantly, divisively, and with little regard for Washington norms. Early on, he’s given mixed signals: In his victory speech, he spoke of wanting to unite the country and work for all Americans, and he expressed graciousness toward another rival, President Barack Obama, after the two met at the White House. Yet the men he’s chosen for cabinet and senior advisor positions so far have been accused of racism, sexism, and Islamophobia, and indicate a more hardline approach.