Biden is steering clear of the topic on everyone’s mind – whether Trump will become the first former president to face criminal charges. The White House seems convinced the best strategy is to stay out of it.
In a week that saw Biden award medals to Bruce Springsteen and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, welcome the cast of “Ted Lasso” and make his first presidential visit to Canada, the president said nothing about the Manhattan district attorney’s criminal investigation into Trump’s hush-money payments to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign.
“Silence is the best policy for him on this right now,” said Todd Belt, professor and political management program director at George Washington University. “There’s an old saying, if the enemy is digging themselves deeper, don’t throw them a rope.”
Why Biden is staying quiet
By staying away from Trump’s legal matters, Biden is respecting the traditional White House approach not to weigh into pending investigations or influence law enforcement, particularly within a state or local jurisdiction.
Trump famously abandoned such norms by frequently demanding the arrests of his political enemies.
By not engaging, Biden is also avoiding comments that Republicans could use to reinforce their accusations of a politically biased justice system and Trump witch hunt.
House Republicans opened an investigation into the “weaponization” of the Justice Department this year and accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of a “politically motivated prosecutorial decision” after Trump falsely predicted his arrest would come Tuesday.
“He doesn’t want to give Republicans anything to work with,” Belt said of Biden. “They are hypersensitive of anything that looks like the politicization of the judiciary.”
What would an indictment mean for 2024?
Trump, of course, is not just any former president. He’s the current frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 and possible election opponent of Biden in a rematch of 2020.
Biden, who has said he intends to run again for president, is widely expected to announce his reelection bid in the coming weeks or months.
“The last thing the White House should do, or any other political leaders, is to put their hands on the scale of justice,” said longtime Democratic strategist Donna Brazile. “This is about the former president and we don’t know what’s going to happen. I think it would be premature if the White House decided to weigh in.”
Some political observers have speculated an indictment could boost Trump’s standing in the Republican primary with his core supporters who might see him as a martyr.
For Biden, a Trump indictment could help crystalize the contrast he hopes to make in 2024 between a White House thahe’ll argue restored competence and the chaos of Trump.
Still, Democrats see no upside for Biden to acknowledge the potential indictment, at least now.
“Joe Biden can contrast himself as a law-abiding president with Donald Trump who was a relatively lawless president and lawless individual, but he does not need to engage in overheated rhetoric at this stage,” said Lis Smith, a Democratic campaign strategist. “There’s no need for Joe Biden to jump in front of a moving train here.”
The White House condemns violent protests without discussing Trump
The heart of the New York investigation into Trump appears to focus on a $130,000 payment that Trump’s longtime lawyer and political fixer Michael Cohen arranged from Trump to Daniels to prevent her from publicizing her claim of having had sex with Trump before the 2016 election.
Biden faced no direct questions about the case or Trump’s possible arrest the only time he faced reporters this week: a joint press conference in Ottawa, Canada with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
White House officials declined to weigh in – other than to condemn violent protests that Trump warned could result from an indictment and to say the federal government has not tracked any specific security threats.
“The president has been very clear when it comes to Americans who want to protest, they should do it peacefully,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
When asked whether Biden believes it is appropriate for a person who is under indictment to run for office, Jean-Pierre would not comment, citing the Hatch Act, which limits political activity from public employees.
“Not going to speak to politics,” she said. “I’m just going to leave it there.”
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.