Biden condemns ‘reckless’ Republican efforts to discredit Trump’s conviction

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden took on his recently convicted opponent on Friday, saying a New York jury's guilty verdict against former President Donald Trump have to be respected and condemning attempts to undermine the justice system as “reckless,” “dangerous” and “irresponsible.”

Biden broke his long silence on Trump's legal troubles, directly and unequivocally calling the presumptive Republican nominee a lawbreaker whose conviction could be a victory for the rule of law. And he rejected claims that the prosecution was a political witch hunt, noting that it was not a case brought by his own administration.

“The American principle that no one is above the law has been reaffirmed,” Biden said in a swiftly arranged televised address from the White House before outlining his recent efforts to finish the war in Gaza. “Donald Trump was given every opportunity to defend himself. It was a state case, not a federal case. And it was tried by a jury of 12 citizens, 12 Americans, 12 people like you, like millions of Americans who have served on juries.”

“This jury,” he continued, “was selected in the same way that every other jury in America is selected. There is a process that involved Donald Trump's lawyer. The jury heard evidence for five weeks, for five weeks. And after careful deliberation, the jury reached a unanimous verdict. They found Donald Trump guilty on all 34 counts.”

While he can have taken pleasure in noting that his opponent on this fall's election was found guilty on all counts, Biden made no mention of the crux of the case, during which Trump was convicted of falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments to a porn star who claimed to have had an affair with him.

Instead, Biden focused on the orchestrated efforts of the previous president and his allies to discredit the indictment and the jury's verdict by portraying the trial as a political persecution during which Trump was allegedly treated unfairly.

“It's reckless, it's dangerous, it's irresponsible for someone to claim the trial was rigged just because they don't like the verdict,” Biden said. “Our justice system has stood the test of time for nearly 250 years and is literally the cornerstone of America. Our justice system, the legal system, should be respected, and we should never allow anyone to destroy it. It's as simple as that. That's America. That's who we are.”

The president's decision to talk on to the consequence of the case was a serious strategic shift. Since Trump was charged last 12 months in the primary of 4 indictments by state and federal prosecutors, Biden has staunchly refused to debate the matter, hoping to remain out of the fray and never reinforce the previous president's false claims that the White House was directing the prosecutions.

As recently as Thursday evening, a Biden adviser, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity while describing internal deliberations, said the president was not expected to make a proper, scripted statement on the ruling on television. The adviser added that it was possible the president could reply to reporters' questions on it.

But based on one other Biden adviser, a series of conversations that lasted through Thursday evening and Friday morning eventually concluded that it was time for the president to talk out. Biden's team crafted comments that were more in defense of the justice system than addressing the specifics of the case against Trump.

“As president, it was important to acknowledge the moment and its significance, but not to dwell on it,” said David Axelrod, who served as Biden's vp and was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama. “That's what he did.”

Still, Jennifer Palmieri, a former communications director for Hillary Clinton, warned that Biden's words wouldn’t persuade his opponent's supporters, who’re already unmoved by 4 criminal charges, including misusing classified documents and illegally attempting to overturn the 2020 election he lost.

“A Trump supporter who is outraged by the verdict is not going to be pacified by any Democratic or Republican president who does not support Donald Trump,” she said. “Even if Biden were not his political opponent, if you are so outraged by the verdict that you are willing to take to the streets, a Democratic president is not going to reach you. That is the sad reality of being president today.”

Trump has tried to get Biden to get entangled within the New York case and the opposite charges by falsely accusing the president of orchestrating them. While Biden appointed the attorney general who oversaw the 2 federal cases against Trump, there isn’t any known evidence that the president or his White House played any role in them. And the New York case, just like the Georgia election tampering case, was brought by a neighborhood prosecutor who shouldn’t be accountable to the president.

Of course, that didn't stop Trump from claiming the other shortly after his conviction on Thursday night. “The Biden administration did this to hurt or harm an opponent, a political opponent,” he said outside the courthouse. His allies immediately reiterated that claim. On Fox News, moderators and guests spoke of the “evil forces” and “evil people” persecuting Trump and blamed the costs on Biden, “who is now the villain.”

The concept that the Justice Department is merely a political weapon definitely surprises Biden, because the same department is putting his own son, Hunter, on trial for gun violations on Monday.

Biden and his team have shown more willingness in recent weeks to handle Trump's criminal justice problems, even without directly attacking them. The president mocked his predecessor for falling asleep through the trial (“Sleepy Don”) and sent actor Robert De Niro to the courthouse to carry a heated press conference attacking Trump (“guilty and we all know it”).

And they, like Trump, sought to capitalize on Thursday's verdict by launching a series of fundraising appeals. “Although a jury found Donald Trump guilty today, there is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box,” Biden said in a fundraising email just hours after the jury announced its verdict, adding, “Donald Trump's supporters are excited and will likely set fundraising records for his campaign.”

Still, the Biden team didn’t anticipate that the ruling would alter the election campaign, which polls show is amazingly close, especially within the crucial swing states needed to win the Electoral College. Instead, advisers said Biden would proceed to construct his arguments to voters on issues corresponding to the economy, abortion rights and democracy.

One adviser said he didn’t expect the campaign to run ads specializing in Trump's status as a felon, nor did he think Biden would try to drag out of the June 27 debate on the grounds that he mustn’t be on stage with a criminal, as some Democrats have demanded. It says something about today's politics that taking up a felon shouldn’t be seen as a winning strategy.

When asked by a reporter at a later event Friday whether the other was true, that the conviction could actually help Trump win the election, Biden said no. “I have no idea,” he said.

The president's official statement got here initially of an announcement of the most recent ceasefire proposal within the Middle East and just before a gathering with the Belgian prime minister and a celebration of the Kansas City Chiefs. Biden then traveled to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, for the weekend before traveling to France next week to attend ceremonies marking the eightieth anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

The Biden team is just too comfortable to advertise this contrast: on the one hand, a commander in chief who welcomes foreign leaders and football champions to the White House, grapples with the necessary problems with war and peace, and travels to the famous beaches of Normandy to honor American heroes. On the opposite hand, a challenger who rails against the system and prepares for a criminal trial that might see him receive a jail sentence, as is common with serious criminals.

“Trump will sink even deeper into anger and self-pity. He can't help it,” Axelrod said. “Biden and the campaign would do well to focus more on the contrast between a president who is fighting for people's most pressing concerns and Trump who is fighting only for himself.”

This story originally appeared within the New York Times.

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