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Trump defends vow to prosecute rivals: ‘Sometimes revenge can be justified’

ASH PONDERS/THE NEW YORK TIMES
                                Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at Dream City Church in Phoenix, on Thursday. Trump has in recent days been offered several opportunities by sympathetic interviewers to clarify or walk back statements about prosecuting political enemies; instead he has defended such remarks. “Sometimes revenge can be justified,” he said.
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ASH PONDERS/THE NEW YORK TIMES

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at Dream City Church in Phoenix, on Thursday. Trump has in recent days been offered several opportunities by sympathetic interviewers to clarify or walk back statements about prosecuting political enemies; instead he has defended such remarks. “Sometimes revenge can be justified,” he said.

Former President Donald Trump has in recent days been escalating his suggestions that he could prosecute his political enemies if elected in November.

In interviews broadcast on Thursday and earlier this week, Trump’s remarks demonstrated how he is trying to put his legal troubles on the ballot as a referendum on the American justice system and the rule of law. His allies in the Republican Party have also joined his calls for revenge prosecutions and other retaliatory measures against Democrats in response to his felony convictions by a jury in a New York court on 34 charges.

Trump was offered several opportunities by sympathetic interviewers in recent days to clarify or walk back his previous statements. Trump instead defended his position, saying at points that “I don’t want to look naive” and that “sometimes revenge can be justified.”

Dr. Phil McGraw, the television host and a self-described donor to Trump’s campaign, brought up the former president’s previous statements in an interview that ran on Thursday and gave him an opportunity to say, as McGraw put it: “Enough is enough. Too much is too much. This is a race to the bottom, and it stops here. It stops now.”

Trump initially responded, “I’m OK with that,” but then added, “Sometimes, I’m sure in certain moments I wouldn’t be, you know, when you go through what I’ve been through.”

Then, when McGraw said that revenge and retribution were unhealthy for the country and that Trump did not have time to “get even,” the former president replied: “Revenge does take time. I will say that. And sometimes revenge can be justified. Phil, I have to be honest — sometimes it can.”

In an interview with Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, that was broadcast Wednesday night, Trump was also offered several opportunities to pledge he would not carry out “retribution” against his political opponents.

Trump was asked to respond to critics who fear he would look for “retribution” if he wins in November and returns to the White House. “So No. 1, they’re wrong,” he said. “It has to stop because otherwise we’re not going to have a country.”

Trump instead said that “based on what they’ve done” — referring to Democrats — “I would have every right to go after them.”

He added, “And it’s easy, because it’s Joe Biden, and you see all the criminality, all of the money that’s going into the family and him.”

Hannity then pushed the former president to condemn “this practice of weaponization.”

Trump replied: “You have to do it. But it’s awful — look, I know you want me to say something so nice,” but, he added, “I don’t want to look naive.”

The former president was also asked, in an interview with ABC15 News in Arizona that aired Thursday, about prosecuting his opponents, and he suggested he was considering it.

“I thought it would be a horrible thing to do to Hillary Clinton,” Trump said, repeating a recent false suggestion that he had never called to “lock up” Clinton. But he added: “The world is different now. So when you ask me the question, would we do it? I’ll talk to you in about three years from now.”

On Tuesday, he also suggested his opponents could face prosecution.

“You know, it’s a very terrible thing. It’s a terrible precedent for our country. Does that mean the next president does it to them? That’s really the question,” Trump told Newsmax host Greg Kelly when asked whether the conviction could help him politically.

He added, “So, you know, it’s a terrible, terrible path that they’re leading us to, and it’s very possible that it’s going to have to happen to them.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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