WASHINGTON — When Donald Trump announced to the world Thursday night that he had been indicted on a series of federal charges, his message was consistent and singularly focused: Joe Biden is using the government to crush his political comeback.
That the Biden-appointed attorney general appointed a special counsel to lead the investigation — a move intended to insulate the president from a decision to prosecute — was overlooked by Trump and the battery of Republican allies who quickly rushed to his defence. And that’s likely to be a lost nuance for voters, as the indictment stokes Republican fears about political bias within the Justice Department.
But so far, Biden has shown no signs of changing strategy when it comes to his chief political rival’s legal troubles: Stay silent and keep going about White House business.
“It falls into the category of the political idiom that when your opponent destroys himself, just step aside,” said Maria Cardona, a Democratic National Committee member and party strategist. “They are focused on President Biden doing what President Biden does best, which is to focus on governance, focus on delivery, focus on communicating his accomplishments, and focus on focus on continuing to deliver what he promised the American people. And in terms of the campaign, continue to focus on the message that he still has to do the job.
That’s the strategy Biden deployed when Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted Trump in late March, even in the face of Republicans insisting Democrats were orchestrating the charges for political gain. But this time, Biden is much closer to the action: the attorney general serves as he pleases. And Trump is working to make sure voters don’t forget that.
Trump’s announcement that he had been indicted began with “The corrupt Biden administration informed my lawyers” and then called it a “box hoax” and “election interference.” Almost every statement that followed continued to invoke the president for his predecessor’s troubles.
But Biden allies, strategists and legal experts say the president may have little choice but to remain silent.
Rick Wilson, a political consultant and co-founder of The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump group, described Biden as “a bit stuck” as Trump attacks his Justice Department and the president refrains from defending him.
“A centerpiece of Trump’s defense is, ‘This is a political lawsuit brought against me by the Biden administration,'” Wilson said. “It’s kind of an unsolvable problem for Biden, because if you deny it, then a denial is a complete admission of guilt in the mind of MAGA.”
He added: “They will expose corruption; Biden shouldn’t give them ammo or valences with which to attack him.
Biden allies have described accountability as built-in.
“Well, there is always a political responsibility in enforcing the law with elected officials in the limelight. And you’re still under that load every time. But what is the alternative? asked Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., a senior member of the House Oversight Committee. “So we’re going to have a whole class of Americans for whom the law doesn’t apply?”
“What happened to the principle that no one is above the law? I think that’s a principle that most Americans understand,” he said. And in Trump’s case, “there’s a huge distinction — these are willful violations of the law and this is obstruction of justice,” he added.
“Aim for the Jugular”
Asked at a press conference on Thursday what he could say to Americans to convince them that they should trust the independence of the Justice Department, Biden replied that his record in office belies the accusations he is making. now faces.
“You will notice that I have never – not once – suggested to the Department of Justice what they should or should not do in order to lay charges or not,” he said. “I’m honest.”
But the president will have to resist the pressure to fight back, as Democrats find themselves caught between wanting to see Trump bear the full brunt of the courts — and still be there to take on Biden in next year’s general election.
“There’s definitely an element of the president’s base that wants to get the jugular on Trump,” said a Democratic strategist, who described Biden and the White House as “comfortable” with a strategy that refuses to deliver. the “red meat” some Democrats might have. to hope.
For now, “the best way to deal with certain things in politics is not to interrupt a good story,” said the strategist, and conceded an advantage to face the former president again.
He added: “With Trump, they’ve already run the simulation.”
“We need Trump to win the primary when all of this is over,” said TJ Rooney, former chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.
Ultimately, the White House Biden is hoping for retaliation from the split-screen that happened in April, when TV cameras flashed footage of Trump’s plane sitting on the tarmac at an airport in New York ahead of his historic impeachment in a silent money case, while Biden gave a political speech in suburban Minneapolis, making the contrast stark.
Still, “in this crazy political atmosphere, you can’t take anything for granted,” Cardona warned. “They don’t assume it will be good for Biden.”
Regular calculation seems to have gone out the window.
“Most people who are indicted for espionage don’t get the GOP nomination,” Wilson said. “They get a trip to the supermax.”
The timing of Trump’s latest impeachment could help Biden dispel accusations that his Justice Department is working to bring his most formidable potential adversary to his knees.
William Barr, who served as attorney general in the Trump administration, dismissed the idea that the Justice Department would act politically if it decided to indict Trump.
If prosecutors were in fact politically motivated, they could wait until later in the election cycle to indict Trump, Barr said, or perhaps not indict him at all so as not to create an opening for a rival. republican better placed to defeat the former. President’s vulnerabilities.
“If the department was playing politics, they wouldn’t move against him, and certainly not in a hurry,” Barr told NBC News. A politically minded Justice Department would choose to “not act against him or not too soon”, and wait instead to “knock him out towards the end”.
“In fact, the political game here would be not to charge him, but let the thing run for a while,” he said.
Silence is a posture, say legal experts, that Biden should maintain.
“The smartest thing he can do is stay 1,000 miles away from investigations and not comment on them at all,” said Norm Eisen, who was President Barack Obama’s House ethics czar. White. “Let the process take its course.”
Of Trump, he added, “The guy is going to bleed through multiple criminal cuts entirely of his own making.”
Circumstances favor Biden politically, Eisen said — even as the president faces potential liability for the discovery of multiple batches of classified government documents inside his home and private office.
“Privately, I think pursuing Trump is good policy news for Biden,” he said. “If Biden himself was responsible, it would be less beneficial, but it’s extremely unlikely that Biden would have any responsibility here.”
Eisen, however, warned that “it’s very early days and the situation can certainly change.”
“Let others make the argument”
A separate special counsel is investigating Biden for his handling of secret documents after the president’s personal attorneys found government files marked with classified documents dating back to his service as vice chairman of his now-closed Washington think tank. just before the midterm elections last year. The president’s lawyers notified the National Archives, which took possession of the documents. But the White House remained silent until January, when news broke and new lots were discovered at the president’s Delaware home and garage, design Trump’s charge of a tiered justice system.
Biden has remained silent despite intense criticism over his lack of transparency on the matter as new searches uncovered more documents earlier this year. Presidents and vice presidents are required to return government records to the National Archives and Records Administration when they leave office.
Hunter Biden, the president’s son, is also under investigation by the Justice Department, a point Trump and his allies frequently cite when pointing fingers at the Biden family’s foreign business dealings.
Where Biden may face political peril is in comments that could raise suspicion that he is meddling with this active investigation.
“My son has done nothing wrong,” the president said in a May interview with MSNBC. In her East Wing office last year, First Lady Jill Biden told NBC News that “Hunter is innocent.”
Legal experts said Biden’s decision to weigh in on his son’s case complicated the appearance of impartiality.
“As painful and agonizing as it is for any parent to have to bite their lip, he’s also the president,” Eisen said. “Let others make that argument.”
“Because of the risk that line attorneys may feel pressured, it is best – whether they are presidents, vice presidents, governors – not to comment on ongoing criminal cases,” said Richard Painter, the White House Chief Ethics Counsel from 2005 to 2007 under the then. President George W. Bush. He said the biggest risk was private pressure, although he said he saw no evidence here. Painter criticized Biden’s handling of classified documents.
Even if the Justice Department were to indict Hunter Biden, that seems unlikely to satisfy critics of Biden who say the system unfairly targets Trump.
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., who was investigated by the FBI for his alleged role in efforts to nullify the 2020 election, accused Biden’s Justice Department of initiating a “relentless militarization of the federal government against American citizens”.
“They’re targeting anyone they disagree with politically and obviously they’re going to target the person and the symbol of the political party that they despise the most,” said Perry, president of the far-right group Freedom. Caucus, in an interview.
But he had no problem with the Justice Department investigating Hunter Biden: “I don’t really understand because, with all due respect, if you had a laptop like that out in public and had your local police found it, you would already be in jail by now.
This article originally appeared on NBCNews.com