As former President Donald Trump pulled into an underground garage at the federal courthouse in Miami, his successor met with NATO’s secretary general for 40 minutes about Ukraine’s new counteroffensive.
Outside the Oval Office windows, the soundtrack to a Juneteenth concert one evening could be heard drifting from the South Lawn. The screen on the small television behind President Joe Biden’s desk was turned off.
As history was unfolding in South Florida, the response at the White House was deliberately muted. A day earlier, some aides said they didn’t even know when Trump’s hearing was scheduled.
Biden aides have long been bracing for the possibility of Trump being indicted in the special counsel’s investigation into the former president’s possession of classified documents. After being notified of the impeachment by members of Biden’s senior team on Thursday evening, there was little doubt what the strategy would be: stay silent on the matter publicly. out.
Biden wants nothing to do with Trump’s predicament. When Trump was impeached, he was meeting with the president of Uruguay behind closed doors.
Hours later, recalling a long meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping with a delegation of American diplomats, he quickly recognized a joke that could be misinterpreted.
“I returned all my notes,” he said, “but not the reference to the former president.”
When he commented on his predecessor’s arrest, the president shouted “No!” he exclaimed. As he walked on.
It’s not the first time he’s been questioned about the bombings — he’s already declined to comment at least four times — and he and his team acknowledge it won’t be the last.
Without saying anything, Biden’s aides agree, they’ll test a president with no bad reservations. But if they believe he can maintain a level of news discipline on a topic that doesn’t wade into ongoing legal matters — especially this one.
All of Biden’s advisers are on the same page, and any comment on the case risks fueling Trump’s claims of political harassment. And Trump’s own meddling in judicial affairs is the reason he ran for president in the first place, Biden told panel members.
Close White House allies have taken a similar stance, and Biden’s team has sent the implicit message that anyone associated with the president should refrain from saying anything that could implicate him in the case, people familiar with the matter said.
One exception came Monday, when first lady Dr. Jill Biden went further than any White House official when she commented on the situation during a fundraiser in New York City.
“My heart is so broken by so many of the headlines we’re seeing in the news,” she said during the off-camera event, according to an Associated Press report that was confirmed to CNN by an attendee. “As I saw it, when I was on my plane, 61% of Republicans said they were going to vote and they were going to vote for Trump.”
“They don’t care about the charges. So it’s a bit of a shock, I guess,” she continued.
Biden’s campaign has been mute on the matter, wary of any politicization that could lend credence to Trump’s claim that Biden is influencing the investigation. Not only did his campaign decline to comment on the matter, but neither the Democratic National Committee nor Biden’s campaign sought to fund-raise for the indictment.
Normally, such a detailed and damning indictment of a presidential candidate’s general election opponent would be seen as a political gold mine — reminding the president’s supporters of the stakes of the election and driving donations to his campaign.
Some Biden advisers say they prefer to talk about the indictment privately, believing the findings only highlight the former president’s continuing danger to the country.
Still, Biden’s political aides have determined that the risks of commenting outweigh the rewards, believing that Trump’s seizure of impeachment for political gain will only fuel politically motivated Republican efforts to impeach, rather than an independent judiciary.
Even privately, Biden’s aides have been reluctant to comment directly on the allegations against the former president, wary of how it could be interpreted and ultimately used to justify Trump’s grievances.
One factor complicating Biden’s approach: a separate special counsel investigation into his own handling of classified documents. The cases differed widely, and people familiar with the matter said the investigation into Biden was far from over.
Biden’s re-election strategy, in many ways, boils down to a choice he has framed for supporters between chaos and stability — and the second of four possible impeachments this year, illustrated with photos of the chaotic approach found in national security documents and reinforced by Trump. Confused ideas they want to contrast against Biden’s consistency in avoiding any public comment.
In the highest circles of the Democratic Party, the charge — and its aftermath — is bad enough in itself: Any attempt at embellishment or spin would be extraneous and, at worst, counterproductive. There weren’t many coordinating phone calls or meetings with Biden aides because there wasn’t much to coordinate.
“The facts that continue to emerge from the Trump impeachment and legal process speak for themselves,” said House Democratic leader Rep. Hakeem Jeffries said Monday in an interview with CNN in his Capitol office.
While Biden aides continue to see Trump as a Republican challenger next year, top Democratic operatives are pointing to the Republican response, both in supportive quotes and in officials who have refrained from saying anything.
Coupled with polls showing Trump’s support among primary voters rising in the days after the impeachment, they believe the situation shows just how strong a hold Trump and Trumpism have on the GOP, which they see as overwhelming weight. Republican Party Prospects in 2024
Some in Biden’s circle foresee Trump quickly seizing any of Biden’s comments for his own fundraising purposes, another reason the president is keeping quiet.
Biden’s campaign doesn’t need to publicly report Trump’s criminal behavior or raise funds in order to gain some political advantage. News of Trump’s behavior and his response to it cloud the airwaves, reminding voters of the confusion that voted them out of office in favor of Biden’s steady hand.
Aides know that Biden’s obligatory, occasional stops at community colleges, union halls and construction sites are unlikely to generate the same headlines as Trump’s legal risk.
Yet more than accomplishments, Biden hopes to project an air of competence and authority in contrast to years of confusion with Trump. In the eyes of his advisers, the boring-comparison will ultimately benefit him.
“Regardless of who the president is, it’s always appropriate for the White House to resist or not comment on ongoing legal matters, especially since we’re at a historically unknown moment in our nation’s history. It’s important and appropriate. The White House has been persistent in not commenting,” said Democratic strategist and CNN commentator Karen Finney. said. “There is nothing to be gained by weighing against my high standards of justice and equal treatment under the law, which is absolutely essential.”
In the past, some in the White House — including Biden — have expressed personal frustrations with Attorney General Merrick Garland’s deliberate speed in conducting investigations into Trump, people familiar with the matter said. There is no indication that anyone inside the White House communicated the footage directly to Garland.
On Thursday, officials did not say whether an indictment was coming from Garland to Biden’s top team, leaving the West Wing to find out by watching the news. Biden told reporters he had not spoken to Garland on the matter.
Biden appeared poised when questioned at close range about the indictment during a tour of Nash Community College in North Carolina: “I have no comment,” he said before watching a student operate a yellow robotic arm.
Later, when the indictment was unsealed, Biden stood on stage and tried to promote his job training agenda against a backdrop of brown machinery and hoses. After he had finished his remarks he knew of the unsealing.
Aides said they caught some of the indictment on television throughout the day. But much of his Friday was spent visiting with military families, including a private stay of more than an hour before returning to Washington.
As Air Force One was returning from North Carolina late Friday, aides changed the channel from the news — Trump’s impeachment was ubiquitous — to the golf channel.