• Wed. Oct 4th, 2023


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Biden Sticks to ‘Say Nothing’ Strategy on the Trump Indictment

President Biden and his advisers have concluded that commenting on the indictment would only feed into Republican accusations of a politically motivated prosecution.

President Biden and his top aides in the West Wing, along with members of his administration and re-election campaign at all levels, are executing a carefully crafted strategy in response to the federal indictment of former President Donald J. Trump: Say nothing.

Mr. Biden has always insisted that he would never interfere with the independence of the Justice Department. But he and his aides also believe that commenting on the case will only feed into the accusations, from Mr. Trump and members of the Republican Party, of a politically motivated prosecution.

It is a stance that will test a voluble president with a penchant for saying what is on his mind, even when it is not politically advantageous. With his predecessor and 2024 rival charged with conspiracy, obstruction of justice and mishandling classified documents, Mr. Biden and his aides are eager to keep themselves far away from the Trump political and legal spectacle as it migrates south to Miami.

For Mr. Biden, keeping his distance also keeps the focus squarely on Mr. Trump. Mr. Biden ran for office in 2020 with a pledge of restoring a sense of pre-Trump normalcy to the White House; the White House is betting that avoiding substantive public comments on the investigations into Mr. Trump will remind voters of that contrast.

“President Biden and his campaign won’t be distracted by Trump’s chaos,” said Cristóbal Alex, a veteran of Mr. Biden’s 2020 campaign and White House. “The focus is on the American people and what the Biden administration accomplished in the first term.”

Even a stray comment by the president during one of his scrums with reporters, could be seized on by Mr. Trump and his allies as evidence that Mr. Biden is exerting undue influence in the case against his predecessor.

“This is a president who respects the rule of law, and he has said that since Day 1,” Olivia Dalton, the deputy White House press secretary, told reporters on Friday. “That’s precisely why we’re not commenting here.”

Ms. Dalton went on to say “no comment” a half-dozen more times in the next 10 minutes. Mr. Biden explained his own silence to reporters on Thursday, just hours before the charges against Mr. Trump were unveiled.

“Because you notice I have never once — not one single time — suggested to the Justice Department what they should do or not do, relative to bringing a charge or not bringing a charge,” Mr. Biden said. “I’m honest.”

Asked again to weigh in on Friday, as he traveled to a community college in North Carolina, Mr. Biden was blunt: “I have no comment.”

Mr. Biden’s determined self-censorship comes with a cost. It prevents the president from defending the government’s legal system against Mr. Trump’s relentless, yearslong attacks, which are now amplified and echoed by his Republican allies and some of his competitors for the party’s presidential nomination. In a social media post on Friday, Mr. Trump lashed out at “the ‘Thugs’ from the Department of Injustice.”

It will fall to others to rebut those attacks. White House and Biden campaign aides on Friday declined to respond to the former president’s claims of being treated unfairly.

Mr. Biden is himself is the subject of a special counsel’s investigation into handling of classified documents found at his home and an office he used before becoming president.

The president’s attorneys have long stressed that the case differs from the one involving Mr. Trump. Mr. Biden and his aides have said they cooperated with Justice Department officials from the beginning of the inquiry. The indictment of Mr. Trump, which was unsealed on Friday, says that the former president conspired to conceal the documents and prevent their return to the National Archives.

A person familiar with the investigation into Mr. Biden’s handling of documents said there is no indication that Robert Hur, the special counsel in that case, is nearing any decision.

Mr. Biden’s allies urged a sense of calm among Democrats and said the president’s campaign should continue to focus on promoting his accomplishments in office and warn voters about Republican efforts to restrict abortion rights — which has polled as the party’s best issue since the Supreme Court, with three Trump appointees, ended the constitutional right to an abortion last year.

“We just need to stay focused on our message and not get caught up in the Trump circus,” said Representative Jennifer McClellan of Virginia, a Democrat who is a member of the Biden campaign’s national advisory board.

On Friday, Mr. Biden put his strategy of avoidance into practice.

At the same hour the special counsel unsealed the indictment against Mr. Trump, drawing the eyes of the nation to the multiple charges against him, Mr. Biden was in North Carolina, touring a work force training program at a community college.

Later — not long after the special counsel in Mr. Trump’s case spoke to the nation about the indictment — Mr. Biden spoke at Fort Liberty about the need to help the spouses of military service members to find employment.

The contrast could not have been clearer. And, at least for the moment, Mr. Biden remained good to his word. Asked on Friday afternoon whether he had talked to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland about the Trump case, Mr. Biden said he had not.

“I have not spoken to him at all and I’m not going to speak with him,” the president said, adding for good measure: “And I have no comment on that.”