Biden Denounces ‘Reckless’ G.O.P. Efforts to Discredit Trump Conviction

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President Biden took on his newly convicted opponent on Friday, declaring that a New York jury’s guilty verdict against former President Donald J. Trump should be respected and denouncing efforts to undermine the justice system as “reckless,” “dangerous” and “irresponsible.”

Breaking his long silence over Mr. Trump’s legal troubles, Mr. Biden directly and unambiguously characterized the putative Republican nominee as a lawbreaker whose conviction amounted to a victory for the rule of law. And he rejected assertions 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 was reaffirmed,” Mr. Biden said in a hurriedly arranged televised statement at the White House before outlining his latest efforts to end 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 heard by a jury of 12 citizens, 12 Americans, 12 people like you, like millions of Americans who’ve served on juries.”

“This jury,” he went on, “was chosen the same way every jury in America is chosen. There’s a process that Donald Trump’s attorney was part of. The jury heard five weeks of evidence — five weeks. And after careful deliberation, the jury reached a unanimous verdict. They found Donald Trump guilty on all 34 felony counts.”

While he may have relished noting that his opponent in this fall’s election was found guilty on all counts, Mr. Biden made no mention of the substance of the case, in which Mr. Trump was convicted of falsifying business records to cover up hush-money payments to a pornography actress who claimed to have had an affair with him.

Instead, Mr. Biden focused on the orchestrated efforts by the former president and his allies to discredit the prosecution and the judgment of the jury by painting the process as a political persecution that supposedly treated Mr. Trump unfairly.

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

The president’s decision to address the outcome of the trial directly was a major strategic shift. Ever since Mr. Trump was charged in this first of four indictments brought against him by state and federal prosecutors over the past year, Mr. Biden has resolutely refused to discuss the matters. He had hoped to stay above the fray and avoid fueling the former president’s false claims that the White House was directing the prosecutions.

As late 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 formal, scripted statement on television about the verdict. The adviser added it was possible that the president might respond to questions from reporters about it.

But according to another Biden adviser, a rolling series of subsequent conversations into Thursday night and continuing Friday morning finally reached the conclusion that it was time for the president to speak out. Mr. Biden’s team crafted 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 acknowledge the moment and its meaning, but not to dwell on it,” said David Axelrod, who was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama when Mr. Biden was vice president. “He did that.”

Even so, Jennifer Palmieri, a former communications director for Hillary Clinton, cautioned that Mr. Biden’s words would not convince his opponent’s backers, since they were already unbothered by four criminal indictments, including charges of mishandling classified documents and illegally trying to overturn the 2020 election that he lost.

“A Trump supporter who’s outraged by the verdict is not going to be moved for calm by any Democratic president or Republican president who does not back Donald Trump,” she said. “Even if Biden were not his political opponent, if you’re so outraged by the verdict that you’re ready to take to the street, a Democratic president is not going to reach you. That’s the sad reality of being president today.”

Indeed, Mr. Trump has been trying to goad Mr. Biden into engaging on the New York case as well as the other indictments by falsely accusing the president of masterminding them. While Mr. Biden appointed the attorney general who has overseen the two federal cases against Mr. Trump, there is no known evidence that the president himself or his White House have played any role in them. And the New York case, like the Georgia election subversion case, was brought by a local prosecutor who does not answer to the president.

That, of course, did not stop Mr. Trump from claiming the opposite moments after his conviction on Thursday evening. “This was done by the Biden administration in order to wound or hurt an opponent, a political opponent,” he said outside the courthouse. His allies quickly amplified the assertion. On Fox News, the hosts and guests talked about the “evil forces” and “wicked people” pursuing Mr. Trump, blaming the prosecution on Mr. Biden, “who is now the villain.”

The notion that the Justice Department is simply a political weapon surely comes as something of a surprise to Mr. Biden given that the same department is putting his own son, Hunter, on trial on Monday on federal gun charges.

Mr. Biden and his team have shown more willingness to poke at Mr. Trump’s criminal troubles in recent weeks even without taking them on frontally. The president has mocked his predecessor for falling asleep during the trial (“Sleepy Don”) and sent the actor Robert De Niro to hold a feisty news conference at the courthouse assailing Mr. Trump (“guilty and we all know it”).

And they quickly sought to capitalize on the verdict on Thursday with a string of fund-raising appeals, just as Mr. Trump did. “Despite a jury finding Donald Trump guilty today, there is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box,” Mr. Biden said in one solicitation email just hours after the jury announced its judgment, adding that “Donald Trump’s supporters are fired up and likely setting fund-raising records for his campaign.”

Still, the Biden campaign did not predict that the verdict will change the contest, which polls show is exceedingly tight, especially in the critical battleground states needed to prevail in the Electoral College. Instead, advisers said Mr. Biden will continue to frame his argument to voters around issues like the economy, abortion rights and democracy.

One adviser said he did not expect the campaign to run advertisements focusing on Mr. Trump’s status as a convicted felon, nor did he imagine that Mr. Biden would try to back out of the June 27 debate on the grounds that he should not appear onstage with a criminal, as some Democrats have urged. It says something about today’s politics that running against a felon is not seen as a winning strategy.

Asked by a reporter at a later event on Friday whether the contrary were true, that the conviction might actually help Mr. Trump win the election, Mr. Biden demurred. “I have no idea,” he said.

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

The president’s formal statement came at the start of an announcement about the latest cease-fire proposal in the Middle East and shortly before meeting with the visiting prime minister of Belgium and hosting a celebration of the Kansas City Chiefs. 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.

That is a contrast the Biden campaign is all too happy to foster: On the one hand, a commander in chief welcoming foreign leaders and football champions to the White House, grappling with momentous questions of war and peace and traveling to the iconic beaches of Normandy to pay tribute to American heroes. On the other hand, a challenger railing against the system and preparing for a sentencing hearing where he may get prison time, just as convicted felons typically do.

“Trump will descend even more deeply into rage and self-pity. He cannot help himself,” Mr. Axelrod said. “Biden and the campaign would be well served to lean more deeply into the contrast between a president fighting to address the pressing concerns of people, and Trump, who fights only for himself.”



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