President-elect Joe Biden downplayed the prospect of pursuing investigations of President Donald Trump after he leaves office.
“I will not do what this president does and use the Justice Department as my vehicle to insist that something happened,” Biden told NBC News’ Lester Holt in an interview Tuesday.
“What I’m focused on is getting the American public back at a place where they have some certainty, some surety, some knowledge that they can make it,” the president-elect said.
Others in Biden’s orbit have made similar comments. “Joe Biden is not going to tell the Justice Department who to investigate or who not to investigate,” incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain told ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday.
The comments come as speculation around Trump’s post-presidency legal troubles remains, with some calling for the president to be prosecuted for alleged misbehavior in office.
Biden’s comments did not rule out the prospect that the Justice Department, which traditionally operates independently of the White House on criminal matters, could involve itself in such an inquiry. Biden also acknowledged that states may continue their own legal fights with Trump.
“There are a number of investigations that I’ve read about that are at a state level,” Biden said. “There’s nothing at all that I can or cannot do about that.”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. is leading an ongoing criminal probe of the Trump Organization for potential tax and bank fraud committed prior to the president’s time in office.
The inquiry originated in the federal prosecution of Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is engaged in a similar civil inquiry that has the potential to become a criminal investigation, depending on what prosecutors uncover.
Two women, writer Jean Carroll and restaurant owner Summer Zervos are pursuing defamation lawsuits related to Trump’s denial of their allegations of sexual assault.
On the campaign trail this year, Biden voiced concerns about a president pursuing legal actions against a predecessor.
“I think it is a very, very unusual thing and probably not very – how can I say it? – good for democracy to be talking about prosecuting former presidents,” Biden said in August.
But some Democrats disagree.
Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., called on Biden to investigate Trump on the first day of his administration, arguing “he has engaged in treachery, in treason.”
“Failure to hold financial and political wrongdoing accountable in the past has invited greater malfeasance by bad actors. A repeat of those failures in 2021 further emboldens criminality by our national leaders and continues America down the path of lawlessness and authoritarianism. There must be accountability,” Pascrell said.
While running for the Democratic nomination for president, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris expressed a similar sentiment, arguing “there has to be accountability.” Harris has since deferred to Biden’s position on the matter.
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