Trump Wanting to Prosecute Clinton and Comey a 'Defining Moment,' Says Bernstein

'This is a demonstration of his unfitness to be president of the United States, of his abuse of presidential power, of his embrace of authoritarian power,' Carl Bernstein said

Carl Bernstein at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, April 29, 2017.
Cliff Owen/AP

Carl Bernstein, the veteran journalist who helped bring down Richard Nixon, called recent revelations in the New York Times that U.S. President Donald Trump wanted the Department of Justice to prosecute Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey a "defining moment" of his presidency.

"This is a defining moment in the Trump presidency," Bernstein told Anderson Cooper on CNN. "This is a demonstration of his unfitness to be president of the United States, of his abuse of presidential power, of his embrace of authoritarian power," Bernstein continued.

"We are now watching a president of the United States undermine the very principles of our democracy," Bernstein continued. "The president takes an oath to defend the constitution of the United States, to uphold it and to protect it. This president daily abuses it, but never have we seen such flouting, such willingness to abuse the constitution."

Don McGahn, the White House counsel at the time, wrote a memo to the president outlining consequences for Trump if he did order these prosecutions.

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The outcomes ranged from the traditionally independent Justice Department refusing to comply, to congressional probes and voter outcry, the Times reported.

The New York Times also reported Trump's lawyers privately asked the Justice Department to investigate Comey for mishandling sensitive government information and his role investigating Clinton's use of a private email account and server, but law enforcement officials declined.

It was not clear if Trump read the memo or pursued the prosecutions further, the New York Times said. It was also not clear what specific charges Trump wanted the Justice Department to pursue against Comey and Clinton, the Times reported.

Trump has publicly railed against Clinton's private email use during her tenure as U.S. Secretary of State, as well as her role in the Obama administration's decision to allow a Russian company to buy a uranium mining firm.

He has also accused Comey, without evidence, of leaking classified information.

Reuters contributed to this report