In an interview that aired Thursday night on Univision, former president Donald Trump indicated that if he’s elected in 2024, he may use the federal government to punish his critics and he defended his administration’s separation of migrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.
During the interview on the Spanish-language TV network, journalist Enrique Acevedo asked Trump if he would weaponize the FBI and Justice Department on his opponents in the same way he claims federal law enforcement agencies have been weaponized against him.
“Yeah. If they do this, and they’ve already done it, but if they follow through on this, yeah, it could certainly happen in reverse,” Trump told Acevedo, according to excerpts of the interview.
“What they’ve done is they’ve released the genie out of the box,” the former president continued, adding, “You know, when you’re president and you’ve done a good job and you’re popular, you don’t go after them so you can win an election.”
“They have done something that allows the next party … if I happen to be president and I see somebody who’s doing well and beating me very badly, I say, ‘Go down and indict them.’ They’d be out of business. They’d be out of the election,” Trump continued.
Trump faces 91 combined federal and state charges over alleged election interference, the mishandling of classified documents and falsifying business records. He has denied wrongdoing in each case. Despite his legal issues, the former president’s polling lead in the race for the Republican presidential nomination has grown larger in recent months — and the general election is widely expected to be a rematch of the 2020 contest between Trump and President Biden.
The wide-ranging interview comes days after The Washington Post reported that Trump and his allies have been mapping out specific plans for using the federal government to retaliate against his opponents and allies turned critics should he win a second term.
In private, the former president has told advisers and friends in recent months that he wants the Justice Department to investigate former Trump officials and allies who have become critical of his time in office, according to people who have talked to him and spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Trump has also talked of prosecuting officials at the FBI and Justice Department, a person familiar with the matter said.
In public, Trump has vowed to appoint a special prosecutor to “go after” Biden and his family. The former president has frequently made corruption accusations against them that are not supported by available evidence.
To facilitate Trump’s ability to direct Justice Department actions, his associates have drafted plans to dispense with 50 years of policy and practice intended to shield criminal prosecutions from political considerations. Critics have called such ideas dangerous and unconstitutional.
During his interview with Acevedo, Trump also sought to defend his administration’s controversial decision to separate migrant parents from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border, saying it prevented more migrants from illegally coming into the United States. Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the federal government seeking damages for allegedly intentionally inflicting emotional distress on migrant families as a result of the separation policy.
“When you hear that you’re going to be separated from your family, you don’t come,” Trump told Univision. “When you think you’re going to come into the United States with your family, you come.”
The decision to separate families, he argued, “stopped people from coming by their hundreds of thousands because when they hear family separation, they say ‘Well, we better not go.’”
This fall, polls showed Trump performing historically well among Black and Hispanic voters in matchups with Biden. And Trump’s appearance on Univision — a leading Hispanic media company in the United States with which he has a thorny history — comes a day after the former president counterprogrammed a Republican presidential debate in Miami with a rally in Hialeah. The South Florida city boasts a large Cuban American community where Trump remains popular.
Acevedo’s sit-down marks the first time Trump has participated in such an interview with the network since he removed Univision anchor Jorge Ramos from a news conference on the campaign trail in 2015. Univision and Trump also settled a lawsuit in 2016 over the network’s decision not to air Trump’s Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants — part of the network’s broad effort at the time to cut ties with the Trump Organization as a result of Trump’s controversial comments about Mexican immigrants.
Isaac Arnsdorf, Josh Dawsey and Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.