Calls To Investigate Clinton Pose A Challenge To U.S. Political Norms President Trump and some GOP lawmakers want an investigation into Hillary Clinton and other figures from the Obama era. But a probe of a defeated candidate is not the norm in American democracy.
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Calls To Investigate Clinton Pose A Challenge To U.S. Political Norms

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Calls To Investigate Clinton Pose A Challenge To U.S. Political Norms

Calls To Investigate Clinton Pose A Challenge To U.S. Political Norms

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Two members of the Senate judiciary committee have proposed legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed by the Justice Department to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election. But some Republicans in Congress want a separate investigation, and their target is Hillary Clinton. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: During the campaign, Trump called his rival crooked Hillary. He made a prediction.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: She's likely to be under investigation for criminality for a very, very long time to come.

OVERBY: There was the chanting.

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MICHAEL FLYNN: That's right, lock her up.

OVERBY: That was retired General Michael Flynn leading the chant at the Republican convention. After Trump won, he told The New York Times he didn't want to hurt the Clintons. But then came questions about connections between his campaign, his family even, and Russian operatives and oligarchs. Since then, Trump has tweeted about, quote, "Hillary Clinton crimes." And White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters this week they were looking at the wrong issue.

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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: If you want to talk further about a relationship with Russia, look no further than the Clintons.

OVERBY: The message is reverberating on Capitol Hill. Most Republican members of the House judiciary committee are calling for another special counsel to investigate Clinton. They also want to get Justice Department documents on Clinton and a list of other former officials. Among them, Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former FBI Director James Comey, and, as the committee put it, possible Hillary Clinton co-conspirators. Florida Republican Matt Gaetz spoke during the committee meeting last week.

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MATT GAETZ: If it's in the public interest to investigate the Trump administration, it is most certainly in the public interest to investigate the real crimes by the real criminals.

OVERBY: Again, what's startling is that they're calling for law enforcement probes of the candidate Trump already defeated.

DANIEL FELLER: I can't really think of any previous experience to compare it to.

OVERBY: Daniel Feller is a presidential historian at the University of Tennessee. As a specialist in Andrew Jackson's presidency, he knows something about partisan conflicts. He said the weird thing here isn't that last year's election is still being refought...

FELLER: But it's the winners who want to refight it.

KATHLEEN CLARK: I think it puts the democracy at risk.

OVERBY: Law professor Kathleen Clark focuses on legal and governmental ethics. Speaking over Skype, she said there are norms of how governments and officials are expected to act in a democracy.

CLARK: I'd say that the norms are under significant pressure.

OVERBY: One example - the norm of leaving election losers alone afterwards. Another one...

CLARK: It's improper to use the investigative authorities of the state as a raw political tool.

OVERBY: This norm has been under pressure before. President Richard Nixon tried to sic the FBI and Internal Revenue Service on his political rivals. The House judiciary committee put it in the articles of impeachment against Nixon. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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