By Julian Hattem - 11-22-16 12:32 PM EST
Conservatives expressed feelings of betrayal on Tuesday after a top advisor to President-elect Donald Trump said that the incoming administration would decline to pursue a criminal case against former rival Hillary Clinton.
Trump's decision not to appoint a special prosecutor to pursue Clinton for allegedly mishandling classified information, confirmed by top advisor Kellyanne Conway on Tuesday morning, is the first major break the president-elect has had with his diehard fans and could strain the relationship.
Conservative critics were livid.
Breitbart News, the website with deep ties to the white nationalist "alt-right" brand of conservatism, plastered the reversal as a "broken promise."
Conservative pundit Ann Coulter accused Trump of "blocking investigators from doing their jobs."
- Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) November 22, 2016
Judicial Watch, the conservative watchdog organization that has pursued Clinton's emails for more than a year, called on Trump to reverse his stance.
"Donald Trump must commit his administration to a serious, independent investigation of the very serious Clinton national security, email, and pay-to-play scandals," organization president Tom Fitton said in a statement. "If Mr. Trump's appointees continue the Obama administration's politicized spiking of a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton, it would be a betrayal of his promise to the American people to 'drain the swamp' of out-of-control corruption in Washington, DC.
"President-elect Trump should focus on healing the broken justice system, affirm the rule of law and appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Clinton scandals."
During the heat of the campaign, Trump promised to appoint a special prosecutor to examine Clinton's controversial use of a private email server. He claimed that a yearlong federal investigation into Clinton's setup, which failed to find sufficient evidence of illegality, was "rigged" to protect the Democratic nominee.
Congressional Republicans dragged FBI Director James Comey and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to the Capitol on multiple occasions to explain their decision. Lawmakers claimed that the Justice Department officials had created a "double standard" in declining to press charges.
The possibility of a politically motivated probe ordered by Trump had riled legal experts, who called it a potential gross breach of the sanctity of the rule of law.
But Trump's base in the Republican Party had cheered his promise with repeated chants of "lock her up" and signs reading "Hillary for prison."
On Tuesday morning, former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway suggested that Trump is backing away from the earlier pledge, in part to "help [Clinton] heal."
"I think when the president-elect, who's also the head of your party, tells you before he's even inaugurated that he doesn't wish to pursue these charges, it sends a very strong message, tone and content," she said on MSNBC.
In an interview with the New York Times, Trump denied that his apparent change of heart would deeply disturb his supporters.
"I think I will explain it that we in many ways will save our country," he told reporters and editors from the newspaper.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has been rumored to be in the running for several positions in a Trump administration, appeared supportive of the decision.
"Look, there's a tradition in American politics that after you win an election, you sort of put things behind you," Giuliani told reporters at Trump Tower in New York. "And if that's the decision he reached, that's perfectly consistent with sort of a historical pattern of things come up, you say a lot of things, even some bad things might happen, and then you can sort of put it behind you in order to unite the nation.
"If he made that decision, I would be supportive of it," he added. "I'd also be supportive of continuing the investigation."
Trump has yet to make a decision on the future of FBI Director James Comey, whose job might be in jeopardy, the president-elect has suggested, for failing to recommend charges against Clinton.
Comey, a Republican, is scheduled to continue his term until 2023, though Trump has suggested he may ask him to leave office sooner.
"I think that I would rather not comment on that yet," Trump said on CBS's "60 Minutes" earlier this month.
"I haven't made up my mind."