Presidential hopeful US Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) said on this week’s NPR Politics Podcast if she is elected to the nation’s highest office, her Department of Justice “would have no choice” but to pursue obstruction of justice charges against President Donald Trump.
President Donald Trump learned early on the campaign trail that promises to use presidential power to jail political opponents can get a crowd excited. Now, Kamala Harris is making a bet that similar rhetoric targeting Trump will draw more support in a hotly contested Democratic primary.
Currently, most polls have Harris tied with South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg and behind Sens. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Former Vice-President Joe Biden leads the field of more than 20 Democrats running to unseat Trump.
Harris and other Democrats are placing bets on Democratic voters’ perceptions of the Mueller Report and the Special Counsel’s decision not to recommend charges against Trump or make a conclusive legal finding of criminality. Mueller indicated at least 10 episodes that could implicate Trump or campaign associates on charges of obstruction of justice, but he declined to make any legal conclusion and US Attorney General William Barr declined to pursue the matter. Instead, AG Barr was tasked with investigating the origins of the Russia probe, or as Trump often puts it – “investigating the investigators.”
Mueller did state that the probe could not establish that any American knowingly or willingly colluded with foreign agents.
Harris is not the first Democrat to talk of putting the president behind bars. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Speaker of the US House of Representatives reportedly said last week “I don’t want to see him impeached, I want to see him in prison,” according to reporting by Politico.
Trump’s supporters are decrying rhetoric of criminal charges as “the sort of stuff in a banana republic.” These same “banana republic” tactics, however, were a popular tool for candidate Donald Trump, who promised to use the power of his position to jail former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on numerous occasions. A mainstay of Trump’s campaign rhetoric, crowds at Trump rallies took to chanting “Lock Her Up!”
Critics of the president see apples and oranges. They view charges against Trump as more substantiated than charges against Clinton would have been. It is still being debated whether Mueller’s decision not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment on obstruction was fully motivated by the long-standing DOJ stance that a sitting president cannot be indicted, or if he thought the evidence was insufficient. Trump’s critics almost invariably say the former. His supporters, the latter.
Less partisan critics worry that threats like the ones used by Harris and Pelosi, and the ones used by Trump, all play into the increasing polarization of the American populace. While Trump hasn’t yet made good on his promise to “lock her up,” a report by the New York Times suggests it hasn’t been for lack of trying.
Regardless, it seems we might be coalescing on some bipartisan agreement: in our current political climate, the mere threat of using political power to jail opposition painted as fundamentally corrupt may effectively galvanize opposition and reinforce support on both sides of the aisle.