Buttigieg: Justice Dept. should decide any Trump charges post-2020

By Matthew Choi

Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said that if elected, he would leave the Justice Department to operate independently of the White House during any potential criminal investigations into President Donald Trump.

"Nobody is above the law and prosecution decisions should have nothing to do with politics and should come from the DOJ itself, not from the Oval Office," Buttigieg told CNN's Jake Tapper in a preview of an interview to be aired Sunday.

Buttigieg's remark comes in contrast with his Democratic rival Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who said if she was elected the Justice Department would have "no choice" but to charge Trump with obstruction of justice if he were to finish his term without being impeached. Harris, a former California attorney general, told NPR that former special counsel Robert Mueller had essentially set the stage for criminal charges against Trump, and only a Justice Department policy barring prosecuting sitting presidents got in the way.

Harris, along with a chorus of other candidates from Sen. Elizabeth Warren to former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, has called for Trump's impeachment. Buttigieg has also advocated for impeachment inquiries, but focuses more on beating Trump in 2020.

Buttigieg has also called for criminal inquiries into Trump if he finishes his term in 2021 without impeachment, but the South Bend, Ind., mayor did not go so far as to dictate what the conclusion of those inquiries would be. He also told The Atlantic that he would be hesitant to order his attorney general to directly pursue charges against Trump.

"I would want any credible allegation of criminal behavior to be investigated to the fullest,” Buttigieg told The Atlantic on Wednesday.

Trump has also recently come under fire for telling ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that if a foreign agent were to offer him dirt on an opponent, he would hear it out. Buttigieg told CBS' Margaret Brennan in an interview segment published Saturday that any American who receives foreign election help should "just call the FBI".

"And by the way, this isn't hypothetical. This isn't theoretical," Buttigieg said, referring to Russian offers of opposition information to members of Trump's inner circle in 2016.

Speaking with Tapper, Buttigieg specified that that criminal investigation would be conducted by an independent Justice Department without micromanaging presidential oversight.

"The prosecutorial process should have nothing to do with politics," Buttigieg said. "The less this has to do with the president, the better."