“It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country,” Mrs. Clinton replied.
“Because you would be in jail,” Mr. Trump shot back.
During the presidential race, Mr. Whitaker, a former United States attorney, also said he would have indicted Mrs. Clinton, contradicting Mr. Comey’s highly unusual public announcement that he would recommend the Justice Department not charge her over her handling of classified information while secretary of state.
“When the facts and evidence show a criminal violation has been committed, the individuals involved should not dictate whether the case is prosecuted,” Mr. Whitaker wrote in an op-ed in USA Today in July 2016.
Two weeks after his surprise victory, Mr. Trump backed off. “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with The Times. “She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways, and I am not looking to hurt them at all. The campaign was vicious.”
Nonetheless, he revisited the idea both publicly and privately after taking office. Some of his more vocal supporters stirred his anger, including the Fox News commentator Jeanine Pirro, who has railed repeatedly on her weekly show that the president is being ill served by the Justice Department.
Ms. Pirro told Mr. Trump in the Oval Office last November that the Justice Department should appoint a special counsel to investigate the Uranium One deal, two people briefed on the discussion have said. During that meeting, the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, told Ms. Pirro she was inflaming an already vexed president, the people said.
Shortly after, Mr. Sessions wrote to lawmakers, partly at the urging of the president’s allies in the House, to inform them that federal prosecutors in Utah were examining whether to appoint a special counsel to investigate Mrs. Clinton. A spokeswoman for the United States attorney for Utah declined to comment on Tuesday on the status of the investigation.