President Donald Trump wants his enemies locked up — he says so all the time.

He told Hillary Clinton that once he won, she’d be “in jail.” He wants foreign countries to investigate the Bidens. He said that John Kerry “should be prosecuted.” He wants Adam Schiff “questioned at the highest level for Fraud & Treason.” John Bolton, he says, should be “in jail, money seized.” James Comey should face “years in jail.” The list goes on. This isn’t just empty political rhetoric — Trump says similar things to officials in private, and grows angry when his demands aren’t carried out.

And so far, they haven’t been carried out. Yet the Justice Department under Attorney General Bill Barr has already become increasingly responsive to Trump’s preferences in criminal cases involving Trump’s friends. So the question is whether, if Trump wins in November, his talk of investigations and prosecutions will become more than just talk.

I spoke to more than a dozen former Justice Department officials about Trump’s increasingly tight grip on an agency that has long prided itself on independence when it comes to criminal matters.

“There’s the fear of the attorney general intervening in cases to benefit president’s allies,” said former US Attorney Barbara McQuade. “And you can also use that power to harm the president’s enemies.”

Already, since Barr took over, he has acted in unusual ways to try to help Trump and his friends, from pre-spinning special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings to intervening in Roger Stone’s sentencing and trying to throw out Michael Flynn’s prosecution.

Attorney General William Barr takes the oath before he testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on July 28.
Chip Somodevilla-Pool/AFP via Getty Images