Donald Trump’s campaign manager has dismissed Trump’s threat to jail Hillary Clinton if he wins the presidency as “a quip”.
The Republican presidential nominee made the threat – an unprecedented break with US political decorum – in the middle of the second presidential debate held on Sunday in St Louis.
It came as Clinton, the Democratic nominee, said it is “awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”
Trump blasted back, “Because you’d be in jail.”
The comment drew applause in a town hall-style debate that was supposed to be free of audience participation.
I hate to say it but if I win I’m going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into [Hillary Clinton’s] situationDonald Trump
A few moments earlier, Trump had said he’d instruct his attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor who would investigate the tens of thousands of emails that Clinton deleted when she was Secretary of State.
After saying people across the country were “furious” with Clinton, Trump said: “So we’re going to get a special prosecutor, and we’re going to look into it.”
He added: “It’s a disgrace. And honestly, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
On Monday, Trump’s campaign manager backed off Trump’s threat to throw Clinton in jail.
“That was a quip,” Kellyanne Conway said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
On Trump’s threat to appoint a special prosecutor, Conway said only that the candidate was “channelling the frustration” of voters.
Trump’s remarks drew widespread and bipartisan condemnation as un-American.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who served under President Barack Obama, wrote on Twitter: “In the USA we do not threaten to jail political opponents. @realDonaldTrump said he would. He is promising to abuse the power of the office.”
Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary under George W Bush and a supporter of Trump, wrote: “Winning candidates don’t threaten to put opponents in jail. Presidents don’t threaten prosecution of individuals. Trump is wrong on this.”
Trump’s “jail” comment was one of the most discussed debate moments on social media during the debate. Trump’s campaign seemed proud of the moment, tweeting a video clip of the exchange shortly afterward with the message, “@HillaryClinton is NOT above the law!” Tens of thousands of his followers retweeted and “liked” the tweet, with some calling it a “mic-drop” moment and the best line of the debate.
The FBI and the Justice Department have closed their investigations into Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was Secretary of State.
Trump has also gone on the defensive since a video depicting him using vulgar language about women and seeming to condone sexual assault was released on Friday.
He held a pre-debate appearance on Sunday with women who accused Bill Clinton of rape and unwanted sexual advances, a strategy he raised in his taped apology, posted hours after Friday’s leak of the video from 2005 that has rocked his campaign and caused dozens of Republican lawmakers to abandon their support of his candidacy.
Trump refused to take questions when he appeared with Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick and Kathleen Willey at the St. Louis hotel where he was preparing for the debate with Democrat opponent. The meeting was posted on his Facebook page.
The four women also were invited by Trump to watch the debate inside the debate hall.
“Mr Trump may have said some bad words, but Bill Clinton raped me and Hillary Clinton threatened me,” Broaddrick said. “I don’t think there’s any comparison.”