Among Donald Trump's many promises, boasts and threats on Sunday night, one stood out to many debate watchers: If he was in charge, "you would be in jail," he told Hillary Clinton.
"There has never been so many lies, so many deceptions," he said. "There has never been anything like it, and we’re going to have a special prosecutor.”
The threat to jail political opponents is often thrown around in the world's dictatorships and pseudo-democracies. Many of the world's most repressive regimes even follow through on it. But it's a threat Americans have not heard from a presidential candidate in their lifetimes.
"This is what they do in banana republics," said Bob Schieffer, the 79-year-old CBS News contributor and veteran debate moderator, who has interviewed every American president since Richard Nixon. "People keep asking me if I've ever seen anything like this and I keep saying 'no.'"
In the wake of the debate, Trump is not trying to walk the line back or finesse it. In fact, his campaign quickly turned it into an ad.
Former Attorney Gen. Eric Holder said the threat reminded him of one of the darkest episodes in postwar presidential history.
Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary under George W. Bush, said Trump's comments crossed a line.
The threat came after Trump criticized Clinton over the State Department emails she stored on a private server and subsequently deleted, and her method of clinching the Democratic nomination, which he said she did not win “fair and square, in my opinion.”
“People have been, their lives have been destroyed for doing one fifth of what you have done and it’s a disgrace,” Trump told Clinton. “Honestly you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
Clinton responded by saying that everything Trump said “is absolutely false,” and urged viewers to visit her website to fact-check the claims.
“I expect we’ll have millions more fact checking,” Clinton said, “because, you know, it’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”
“Because you would be in jail,” Trump responded.
Emma Loop is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Emma Loop at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tom Gara is the business editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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