Biden on Trump’s Indictment? Four Ways to Say No Comment.

From a New York Times story by Katie Rogers headlined “Biden’s Response to Trump’s Indictment? 4 Ways to Say No Comment>”:

President Biden has nothing to say about the indictment of former President Donald J. Trump. He had so little to say to reporters on Friday, in fact, that he said nothing in four different ways:

Would the indictment divide the country? “I have no comment on that.”

Was he worried about protests? “No. I’m not going to talk about the Trump indictment.”

What did the indictment say about the rule of law? “I have no comment at all.”

Are the charges politically motivated? “I have no comment on Trump.”

The strategy behind his “no comment” response is twofold: Mr. Biden and his advisers want to avoid a situation in which Mr. Trump tries to bait him into a reaction, according to two people familiar with the thinking inside the White House.

But most of all, White House officials say, Mr. Biden believes that presidents should not comment on pending legal matters. (Not commenting on legal investigations, of course, was a common practice for presidents until Mr. Trump took office.)

Mr. Biden’s strategy encapsules the argument he is making as he prepares to run for a second term, with Mr. Trump as a potential opponent: that he can project calm and competence while Mr. Trump continues to sow chaos.

So, as he fielded questions while leaving the White House to visit a part of Mississippi that has been battered by recent storms, the president almost studiously ignored his predecessor, who has gone on the attack against Democrats and members of the Biden family since the indictment news broke.

The strategy, now and always, has been not to respond, even in recent days, when Mr. Trump warned of “potential death and destruction” if he were to face indictment. Early Friday morning, Mr. Trump posted a message to his social media account: “WHERE’S HUNTER?” — a reference to Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, who is facing a federal investigation into his business dealings.

“Absolutely, they should stay the hell out of it,” David Axelrod, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, said in an interview. “There’s nothing that Trump wants more than for the White House to try to chime in. It would help him make this whole thing look like a big Democratic political conspiracy, which it’s not.”

The indictment of Mr. Trump, which stems from his role in paying hush money to a porn star, is a first that will test the country’s legal and political institutions. Still, Mr. Biden has faced questions about Mr. Trump’s legal exposure for years. In October 2020, Mr. Biden was asked by George Stephanopoulos of ABC how a Biden Justice Department would handle the evidence produced in the Mueller investigation, which examined the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia and interference in the 2016 election.

“What the Biden Justice Department will do is let the Department of Justice be the Department of Justice,” Mr. Biden said. “Let them make the judgments of who should be prosecuted. They are not my lawyers. They are not my personal lawyers.”

But he does have opinions. In the past, Mr. Biden privately told his close circle of advisers that Mr. Trump posed a threat to democracy and should be prosecuted for his role in the events of Jan. 6, according to two people familiar with his comments. He also told confidants that he wanted Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to stop acting like a ponderous judge and to take decisive action.

For now, the president and his advisers are waiting to see what the charges against Mr. Trump will be. The former president faces other legal peril as well: Prosecutors in Georgia are expected to make a decision soon on whether to seek indictments in their investigation of Mr. Trump and some of his allies over their efforts to interfere with the results of the 2020 presidential election in the state.

There is little appetite inside the Biden administration to raise the temperature. In Africa on Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor, also declined to answer questions on Mr. Trump: “I am not going to comment on an ongoing criminal case as it relates to the former president,” Ms. Harris said during a news conference with the president of Zambia.

On Friday, the Bidens walked among destroyed buildings in Rolling Fork, Miss., pausing to speak to families who had lost their homes in storms that have killed at least 21 people. At several points, Mr. Biden leaned down to talk to children, and the first lady chatted with workers who had been trying to clear the debris.

Eric Schultz, a former spokesman for Mr. Obama, said that the president’s trip to Mississippi was likely to generate far fewer headlines than the Trump indictment, but that there was little reason for Mr. Biden, who is expected to announce a re-election campaign in the coming weeks, to step in as “the narrator” of Mr. Trump’s legal saga.

“He’s so focused on what people are experiencing in their day-to-day lives,” Mr. Schultz said. “That’s where he should stay, no matter how many times his predecessor gets indicted.”

Katie Rogers is a White House correspondent, covering life in the Biden administration, Washington culture and domestic policy. She joined The Times in 2014.

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