President-elect Joe Biden is signaling that his administration will not prioritize prosecuting his predecessor in a purported effort to heal the country’s divisions, amid pressure from other Democrats for a “reckoning” once President Trump has left office.
The president’s tax and business affairs are already being investigated in New York. And Trump has reportedly told aides that he fears a wave of federal prosecutions.
A number of senior Democrats are already salivating at the prospect of fresh investigations into Trump’s time in office.
But it was smart politics for Biden to deprive his predecessor of any extra excuse to cry foul, according to Hank Sheinkopf, a New York-based Democratic strategist, who has watched Trump’s court battles and media tactics for decades.
“Do we really need to continue the Trump era by going after him? Trump wants to be attacked because what happens? He becomes a martyr to his own people, to the Trumpniks, of which there are more than 70 million,” he said.
Biden says he is making repairing America’s deep political divides one of his priorities after a bitterly fought election. Trump frequently targeted Biden’s troubled son Hunter during raucous rallies when the crowd would chant “lock ’em up” in response.
Biden has responded with calls for unity.
“I pledge to be a president who seeks not to divide, but to unify,” he said on the day media organizations called the election in his favor. “Who doesn’t see red states or blue states, only sees the United States.”
He reportedly told aides that investigations into Trump’s taxes or challenges to pardons granted to his allies could endanger any hopes of rebuilding tolerance and understanding.
One adviser told NBC News: “He’s going to be more oriented toward fixing the problems and moving forward than prosecuting them.”
Another said his priorities would be the coronavirus, climate change, and race relations rather than looking backward at his predecessor in the White House.
However, he will face opposition from within his own party.
Last week Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat, demanded an investigation into Trump’s time as commander in chief. He called for an independent presidential crimes commission to be established for the purpose.
“The idea is, we’re going to have to have a reckoning over what the president and his enablers have done to our country,” he told TMZ. “And I want that to be independent, I want it to be outside Congress, but I do believe that we do need to understand what crimes were committed.”
The debate reflects the tension Biden will have to manage in power, as he squares his own centrist outlook with the Democratic Party’s energized left wing.
During the campaign, Biden hinted that he would not focus on Trump’s alleged transgressions, instead saying he would leave decisions on prosecutions to the attorney general.
“If that was the judgment that he violated the law and he should be, in fact, criminally prosecuted, then so be it,” he said during a debate in Atlanta. “But I would not direct it.”
But he also stopped short of saying he would pardon Trump.
Some Democrats would go further if it meant easing the concerns of the 73 million people who voted for Trump.
“A Biden pardon of Trump, like the pardoning of former President Richard Nixon 46 years ago, would be intended to heal the nation and foreclose the possibility of an ongoing cycle of retribution after political parties change control of the government,” wrote Michael Conway, former counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, for NBC News. “We’ve done this before.”