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Special Report

Trump walks back pledge to pursue Clinton probe

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," November 22, 2016. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

THEN-REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE DONALD TRUMP: If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it. And we're going to have a special prosecutor.

She did some bad things. I mean --

LESLIE STAHL, CBS NEWS: A special prosecutor?

TRUMP: I don't want to hurt them. I don't want to hurt them. They're good people.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR ADVISER TO TRUMP TRANSITION: I think he's thinking of many different things as he prepares to be become the president of the United States, and things that sound like the campaign aren't among them.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

DOUG MCKELWAY, GUEST ANCHOR: Well, having defeated his foe, Donald Trump is now expressing some degree of magnanimity, saying he no longer has an interest in bringing in a special prosecutor to prosecute Hillary Clinton.

So what to make of it? Let's bring in our panel now: Nina Easton, columnist for Fortune magazine, Amy Walter, national for The Cook Political Report, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. Charles, any thoughts?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: I think it's the right thing. Procedurally, not quite, but this is the equivalent of him saying, issuing a pardon. And there are a lot of people who are saying, well, what about justice here? Well, the point of the pardon power, which is always rather odd in any constitution, is to allow political expediency or, if you like, reasons of state to trump justice.

Obviously, if you can issue a pardon, you're going around justice, but you're saying some things for the country are more important, like the Nixon pardon. He might have been guilty, he never was tried. But it was done so the country wouldn't have to suffer the long national nightmare anymore, and it was the right thing to do which I think many people today who objected at the time recognize.

I think it's right to do it. You put that behind us. Yes, there are probably offenses which are prosecutable, maybe she would be convicted, but that's not what we want to do. We do not want to see national political opponents putting each other in jail. So even though procedurally he's not supposed to say this because he's not the one who would decide whether there would be a special prosecutor, it's the equivalent of saying, when I'm sworn in I would issue a pardon, and that's I think the right thing to do.

MCKELWAY: Amy?

AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Yes, I agree that it is the right thing to do. At a time when you're a president-elect with disapproval rating somewhere in the 50s, the idea of going after your opponent and really just sticking a finger in the eye of every person who supported her is not the best way to say I'm going to bring this country together. We have a very polarized environment right now. So on that part, I think it's good.

And I think Charles brings up another important point, which is it is still the Department of Justice who gets to make these decisions. If they do find something, it is not up to the president. It is up to the Department of Justice to make these decisions.

I think what he was saying, and Kellyanne Conway made this point this morning pretty explicitly, what he was really saying to members of Congress, don't use the time we have now to wage a war on the Clintons. We have control of Congress, we have both branches, we have the White House. Let's work on a proactive agenda rather than spending it all back on the Clintons.

MCKELWAY: As you mentioned, the FBI investigation of Clinton Foundation still exists. We've heard nothing to suggest it does not.

NINA EASTON, FORTUNE MAGAZINE: Yes, it still exists and there's no -- there's, as you point out, procedurally he can't politically influence the FBI in its investigations. But it was a good message to send because it was keeping very much in his message of unity post-election.

And I think we saw that message very much in the YouTube video when he talked about what he was going to do in his first 100 days. You didn't see on immigration, for example, you didn't see a lot of talk about building a wall or even overturning those executive orders of President Obama's to keep young immigrants here who were here illegally who came here as young people. We saw him talk about an investigation by the Department of Labor into abuses of the visa program that hurts American jobs. So everything about that that was about saving American jobs, that YouTube video, so I think that's -- he is very much keeping on theme with what he's trying to accomplish in bringing the country together.

Ironically, by the way, if Hillary had won, she would be under investigation by the House, a Republican-controlled House, and I think we'd be seeing attempts at impeachment probably a year from now. So it definitely has a different outcome this way. It's kind of interesting how things turn out.

MCKELWAY: Couldn't you make the case, though, that today's announcement by Donald Trump basically is an indication that he was after a political prosecution and not a legal one during the campaign?

KRAUTHAMMER: Well, I think what it indicates is that he tends to say things provisionally. He says what he needs to say at the moment if he's in the middle of a debate or if he wants to rouse a crowd, he'll say "lock her up" or encourage "lock her up" and kind of smile. But in the end he tends to shift. We've seen lots of shifts on lots of issues. Today, waterboarding, there's a lot of stuff going on. And it makes you think what he believes about campaigning is you say what's useful at the time and then later figure out how you want to govern.

MCKELWAY: There's an alternative theory I've been hearing a little bit of today that the similarities between the Clinton Foundation and her position as secretary of state is not all that different from Donald Trump's coming position and his own family's interests.

WALTER: Absolutely. And this is going to be a key issue for the next how many months depending on how he decides to handle this. And it looks like from his conversation with The New York Times today, he's not interested in divesting his investments. He's not interested in doing some of the things that even the Wall Street Journal suggested he should be doing. And so that leaves him in a very vulnerable position.

Now, every time we see whether it's a legislative action, something that the president does, himself, there's going to have to be a question mark, then, about whether this actually benefited him and his companies. There are constitutional issues that still have to be addressed that we've never seen before. So we could be in for a very long, messy ride.

MCKELWAY: You talked about this New York Times meeting today which was acknowledged by Donald Trump early in the morning. It was then withdrawn by Donald Trump saying that the ground rules had been changed and then he retracted the retraction, saying the meeting's back on again at The New York Times.

The New York Times reporters were tweeting as the meeting was going on, and I want to read through a handful of these things. Tweets from The New York Times: "I don't think we should be a nation builder" Trump says of the U.S. role in the world. "Syria, we have to solve that problem, Trump says as he has a different view than anybody else." Donald Trump on The New York Times, quote, "I do read it, unfortunately. I'd live about 20 years longer if I didn't." Asked pointblank about the Nazi conference in D.C. over the weekend, Donald Trump tells The New York Times, "Of course I disavow and condemn it." And then on Steve Bannon, quote, "If I thought he was a racist or alt-right or any of the things that terms that we could use, I wouldn't even think about hiring him." And then Trump lastly, "Jared Kushner could help make peace between Israelis and Palestinians." A lot covered there, Nina.

EASTON: There was a lot covered there. It's interesting, I think, you see The New York Times tweeting, which, of course, is the preferred vehicle of communication by this president-elect. What I found fascinating over the last several days, since the election, was we have seen now the near total complete disruption of the traditional media. All the gatekeeping, the traditional media, and it's not just establishment media, it's right, left, anybody. It's traditional media has been upended by this president- elect who chooses to tweet, and I still love that quote he -- from last summer, the summer before this, where he said "I love tweeting. It's like owning The New York Times without the debt." You know, so he's communicating directly, and he doesn't hold a press conference to talk about his first 100 days. He puts it on YouTube. He's figured out how to bypass the traditional media.

MCKELWAY: All the news that's fit to print in 140 characters or less.

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