Biden Slams Republican Party’s ‘Reckless’ Efforts to Discredit Trump’s Conviction

President Biden lashed out at his newly convicted opponent Friday, saying a New York jury’s guilty verdict against former President Donald J. Trump must be respected and denouncing efforts to undermine the justice system as “reckless”, “dangerous” and “irresponsible”.

Breaking his long silence on Mr. Trump’s legal troubles, Mr. Biden directly and unambiguously called the putative Republican nominee a lawbreaker whose conviction amounted to a victory for the rule of law. And he rejected claims that the lawsuits were 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 hastily prepared televised statement at the White House before describing his latest efforts to end the war in Gaza. “Donald Trump had every chance to defend himself. This was a state matter, not a federal matter. And this was heard 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 chosen in the same way that all American juries are chosen.” There is a process in which Donald Trump’s lawyer participated. The jury heard five weeks of testimony – five weeks. And after careful deliberation, the jury reached a unanimous verdict. They found Donald Trump guilty on all 34 counts.

While he may have been pleased to see that his opponent in this fall’s election had been found guilty on all counts, Mr. Biden made no mention of the merits of the case, in which Mr. Trump was convicted of falsifying business records to conceal secret payments to a pornographic actress who claimed she had an affair with him.

Instead, Mr. Biden focused on efforts orchestrated by the former president and his allies to discredit the prosecution and the jury’s verdict by portraying the process as political persecution that allegedly treated Mr. Trump unfairly.

“It’s reckless, it’s dangerous, it’s irresponsible for anyone to say it was rigged just because they don’t like the verdict,” Biden said. “Our justice system has been around for nearly 250 years and is literally the cornerstone of America. Our justice system, the justice system, must be respected and we should never allow anyone to tear it down. As simple as that. This is America. This is what we are.

The president’s decision to directly address the outcome of the trial represented a major strategic shift. Since Mr. Trump was charged in the first of four indictments brought against him by state and federal prosecutors over the past year, Mr. Biden said, he has steadfastly refused to discuss these issues. He had hoped to stay above the rest and avoid fueling the former president’s false claims that the White House was leading the prosecution.

As recently as Thursday evening, a Biden adviser, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity while describing internal deliberations, said the president was not expected to make a formal statement and scripted television broadcast about the verdict. The adviser added that it was possible that the president would answer journalists’ questions on this subject.

But according to another Biden adviser, a series of subsequent conversations Thursday evening and Friday morning ultimately led to the conclusion that it was time for the president to speak out. Mr. Biden’s team wrote comments intended to defend the justice system rather than delve into the details of the case against Mr. Trump.

“It was important as president to recognize the moment and its significance, but not dwell on it,” said David Axelrod, who was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama when Mr. Biden was vice president. “He did this.”

Despite this, Jennifer Palmieri, Hillary Clinton’s former communications director, warned that Mr. Biden’s words did not convince his opponent’s supporters, since they were already unbothered by four criminal charges, including for mishandling classified documents and illegally attempting to overturn the 2020 election that he lost.

“A Trump supporter who is outraged by the verdict will not be encouraged to calm down by a 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 will not reach you. This is the sad reality of being president today.

Indeed, Mr. Trump tried to convince Mr. Biden to engage in the New York case as well as the other indictments by falsely accusing the president of orchestrating them. While Mr. Biden appointed the attorney general who oversaw the two federal cases against Mr. Trump, there is no known evidence that the president himself or his White House played any role. And the New York case, like that of electoral subversion in Georgia, was brought by a local prosecutor who does not answer to the president.

Of course, that didn’t stop Mr. Trump from claiming otherwise moments after his sentencing Thursday night. “This was done by the Biden administration with the intention of harming or hurting an opponent, a political opponent,” he said outside the courthouse. His allies quickly amplified this claim. On Fox News, hosts and guests talked about “evil forces” and “bad people” pursuing Mr. Trump, placing the blame on Mr. Biden, “who is now the bad guy.”

The idea that the Justice Department is just a political weapon surely surprises Mr. Biden given that the same department will try his own son, Hunter, on federal gun-related charges on Monday.

Mr. Biden and his team have been more willing to take on Mr. Trump’s criminal problems in recent weeks, even without confronting them head-on. The president mocked his predecessor for falling asleep during the trial (“Sleepy Don”) and sent actor Robert De Niro to hold a fiery news conference at the courthouse to attack Mr. Trump (“guilty and we all know it).

And they quickly sought to capitalize on Thursday’s verdict with a series of fundraising appeals, just as Mr. Trump did. “Even if a jury finds Donald Trump guilty today, there is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: through the ballot box,” Mr. Biden said in a solicitation email just hours after the jury announced its verdict, adding that “Donald Trump supporters are excited and likely setting fundraising records for his campaign.”

Still, the Biden campaign did not predict that the verdict would change the contest, which polls show is extremely close, particularly in the critical states needed to prevail in the Electoral College. Instead, advisers said Mr. Biden will continue to make his case to voters around issues such as the economy, abortion rights and democracy.

One adviser said he did not expect the campaign to run ads focused on Mr. Trump as a convicted felon, nor did he imagine that Mr. Biden would try to withdraw from the debate. June 27 on the grounds that he should not appear on stage with a criminal, as some Democrats have advocated. The fact that running against a criminal is not considered a winning strategy says a lot about today’s politics.

Asked by a reporter at a later event on Friday whether the opposite was true, and whether the conviction could actually help Mr. Trump win the election, Mr. Biden demurred. “I have no idea,” he said.

But he said he’s not worried the case could set a precedent for a local prosecutor to one day prosecute him. “Not at all,” he said. “I did not do anything wrong. The system still works. And he scoffed at the idea that he was somehow pulling the strings behind the scenes. “I didn’t know I was so powerful,” he said.

The president’s official statement comes at the start of an announcement about the latest Middle East ceasefire proposal and shortly before he meets with the visiting Belgian prime minister and hosts a Kansas City Chiefs celebration. Mr. Biden then left for Rehoboth Beach, Del., for the weekend before heading to France next week for ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

It’s a contrast the Biden campaign is only too happy to foster: on one side, a commander in chief welcoming foreign leaders and football champions to the White House, grappling with momentous questions of war and of peace and going to the emblematic beaches of Normandy. to pay tribute to American heroes. On the other hand, a challenger rails against the system and prepares for a sentencing hearing where he faces prison time, just as convicted criminals typically do.

“Trump will sink deeper into rage and self-pity. He can’t help it,” Mr. Axelrod said. “Biden and the campaign would benefit from looking more deeply at the contrast between a president who is struggling to address the people’s pressing concerns and Trump, who does not fights only for himself.

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