President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team signaled Tuesday that his administration will not pursue further investigations of Hillary Clinton, backing off a vow on the campaign trail to appoint a special counsel to probe his Democratic rival’s secret email setup as secretary of state and suspected pay-to-play deals involving her family’s foundation.
Mr. Trump labeled Mrs. Clinton “Crooked Hillary” and made charges that she was a corrupt scofflaw a cornerstone of his campaign. The boisterous crowds at this rallies, convinced Mrs. Clinton belonged in prison, regularly broke into chants of “lock her up!”
But the president-elect struck a very different tone Tuesday, arguing that Mrs. Clinton had suffered enough and the country needed to heal.
“I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with the New York Times. “She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways.” He also said the Clinton Foundation has done “good work.”
In another about-face from his campaign rhetoric, Mr. Trump told the newspaper that he would keep “an open mind” on the issue of climate change and the role human activity plays in rising global temperatures.
He refused to repeat his promise to pull out of the international climate accord agreed to in Paris last year, which he previously called a “job-killer.”
“I’m looking at it very closely,” he said. “I have an open mind to it.”
The remark heartened environmentalists.
“Hopefully, Trump really will keep an ‘open mind’ on the Paris climate agreement, which is an enormous step forward in the global battle to address the devastating impacts of climate change,” said League of Conservation Voters leader Tiernan Sittenfeld. “We call on Donald Trump — who has denied the reality of climate change, and whose transition team is dominated by Big Polluters and their allies — to listen to the families, children and businesses who are negatively impacted by climate change and choose to keep moving our country ahead, not backwards.”
Mr. Trump also took a step he sometimes hesitated to take during the camping, forcefully disavowing the alternative right or “alt right” movement and its white supremacist elements that backed his candidacy. He denounced a recent alt-right convention in Washington that celebrated his election victory with some in the crowd offering Nazi salutes and repeating slogans in German.
“I disavow and condemn them,” he said. “It’s not a group I want to energize, and if they are energized, I want to look into it and find out why.”
When pressed about whether he had ruled out prosecuting Mrs. Clinton, he said, “It’s just not something that I feel very strongly about,” adding he did not think his most enthusiastic backers during the campaign would be disappointed.
But Mr. Trump’s softening position was a source of confusion, in part because the Justice Department, not the president, is supposed to make the call on which cases to prosecute.
Trump spokesman Sean Spicer stressed that Mr. Trump had not ruled out an investigation or prosecution after he takes office in January.
“He made it clear that it wasn’t a priority,” Mr. Spicer said on CNN’s “The Situation Room” program. “What he wants to focus on is making the country better and helping lift people up and creating jobs and securing the border.”
Mr. Trump backed off promises to prosecute Mrs. Clinton a month before his inauguration and on the cusp of the Thanksgiving holiday.
By the end of the day, he jetted to his Mar-a-Largo Club in Palm Beach, Florida, where he would spend a long weekend with his family.
A transition team spokesman said the president-elect would not be conducting interviews over the weekend, although he was expected to continue working on transition plans and hiring decisions for top jobs in his administration.
Over the weekend, retired neurosurgeon and former GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson will be considering Mr. Trump’s offer to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“That’s one of the offers that is on the table,” Mr. Carson said on Fox News’ “Your World with Neil Cavuto” program.
Mr. Carson was born into poverty in Detroit and rose to become a word famous pediatric neurosurgeon. For years, he has used his inspirational story to advocate for using educational and self-reliance to break the cycle of poverty in urban communities.
After meeting Tuesday with Mr. Carson at Trump Tower, Mr. Trump tweeted: “I am seriously considering Dr. Ben Carson as the head of HUD. I’ve gotten to know him well — he’s a greatly talented person who loves people!”
Meanwhile, the apparent decision to let Mrs. Clinton off the hook riled many in Mr. Trump’s base.
“Everybody that I know wants justice, wants her head on a platter and to see her in an orange jump suit,” said Ken Crow, a national tea party leader based in Iowa who was an early supporter of Mr. Trump’s presidential bid.
Mr. Crow said he did not personally share the outrage, saying Mr. Trump was smart to make a fresh start.
Mrs. Clinton might not get off scot-free, he said, noting the ongoing FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation that could result in charges for play-to-play deals involving foreign interests while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state.
“What Trump has done is a master chess move,” said Mr. Crow.
Others described the move as Mr. Trump backpedaling on his law-and-order agenda.
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, the legal activist group that helped expose the email scandal and force the State Department to make public Mrs. Clinton’s long hidden official emails, said Mr. Trump was betraying the American people.
“Donald Trump must commit his administration to a serious, independent investigation of the very serious Clinton national security, email, and pay-to-play scandals,” he said. “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, D.C.”
Mr. Fitton said that the present-elect “should focus on healing the broken justice system, affirm the rule of law and appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Clinton scandals.”
Kellyanne Conway, a senior advisor to the Trump transition team, said the president-elect was sending a “strong message” to Democrats and Republicans when he indicated even before his inauguration that he wouldn’t go after Mrs. Clinton.
“Hillary Clinton still has to face the fact that a majority of Americans don’t find her to be honest or trustworthy, but if Donald Trump can help her heal, then perhaps that’s a good thing,” she said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program.
The email scandal, which included potentially criminal mishandling of classified information, dogged Mrs. Clinton throughout the presidential race.
In July, FBI Director James B. Comey announced that the yearlong investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s email practices as secretary of state would not result in a recommendation to pursue criminal charges, although he said she did mishandle classified information and was “extremely careless” with government secrets.
The boost for the Clinton campaign, however, turned to bust when Mr. Comey reopened the investigation two weeks before the election, saying fresh evidence had to be examined. He reaffirmed his decision not to recommend charges just days prior to Election Day.
Some Democrats blamed wavering by the FBI chief for causing Mrs. Clinton’s stunning election loss to Mr. Trump.
Many looked to President Obama to grant a pardon to Mrs. Clinton before leaving office to prevent a prosecution by the Trump administration.
The White House reacted to Mr. Trump’s apparent decision to forgo further investigation by saying Mr. Comey had already settled the matter.
“There was an investigation,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “His conclusion is that no reasonable prosecutor would move forward with the case.”
He added, “The point is, we don’t need staffers in the next White House to resolve the question of whether or not the prosecution should move forward.”
• Dave Boyer and David Sherfinski contributed to this report.