For months on the campaign trail, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has stirred his crowds of supporters to enthusiastically chant "Lock her up!" nearly every time he mentions rival Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server or her handling of the terror attacks in Benghazi. But despite hearing the entire Quicken Loans Arena rabidly chanting the phrase during the Republican National Convention this summer, some Republicans found Trump's threat to jail his political opponent during the second presidential debate beyond the pale.
During Sunday night’s debate in St. Louis, Trump told the Democratic presidential nominee “you’ll be in jail” should he win the presidency. "Special prosecutor, here we come, right? If I win, we're going to appoint a special prosecutor," he declared at a Pittsburgh rally the next day:
Former Republican U.S. attorney general Michael Mukasey called that a "watershed event" in American politics.
"That's the -- that to me is the -- is a watershed event -- that is that it's the president of a different party. That makes it an entirely different kind of exercise in my view," Mukasey told NPR on Monday. Mukasey, who spoke at the GOP convention in July, said Trump's suggestion "would make us look like a banana republic."
And Mukasey is far from the only Republican former prosecutor who feels this way. The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Trump’s threat to sic a special prosecutor on Clinton should he win the White House has prompted a group of Republican former Justice Department officials to call for the GOP presidential nominee’s defeat in November.
Citing Trump's "vindictive approach to his opponents," 23 former officials who served under five Republican presidents from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush released a letter announcing that “none of us will vote for Mr. Trump and all believe he must be defeated at the polls.”
“We believe that Donald Trump’s impulsive temperament, flair for controversy, vindictive approach to his opponents and alarming views outside the constitutional mainstream ill suit him to oversee the execution of the laws in a fair and even-handed manner,” the group wrote. According to the Journal, Donald Ayer, who served as deputy attorney general under George H.W. Bush, and Donald Baker, assistant attorney general for the antitrust division under Gerald Ford, organized the lawyers against Trump:
Mr. Trump’s threat at the second debate to appoint a special prosecutor to criminally investigate his main opponent in this election is shockingly contrary to the premises of our democracy, and conjures up images of foreign police states. In addition, his expressed enthusiasm for "waterboarding,” "torture" and "taking out" the families of terrorists demonstrates his basic ignorance of the facts as well as the role of our legal system in the fight against terror.
In addition to the letter, former George W. Bush administration lawyer John Yoo is criticizing Trump's authoritarian tone on the campaign trail. Yoo told the Washington Post that Trump’s promise to appoint a special prosecutor to go after Clinton is “a compounded stupidity” that would have late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia "rolling in his grave.”
"If you are a Republican or a conservative, you think that special prosecutors are unconstitutional,” Yoo reminded Trump, before adding that the GOP nominee “reminds me a lot of early Mussolini .… very disturbingly similar.”