WASHINGTON – President-elect Joe Biden has personally told his advisers he does not want his presidency to be swallowed up by his predecessor’s investigations, according to five people familiar with the debate, despite pressure from some Democrats to investigate President Donald Trump, his politicians and members. of his administration.
Biden expressed concern that the investigations would further divide a country he is trying to unite and risk making every day of his presidency for Trump, sources who spoke in the background said to offer details of personal talks. They said he specifically told advisers he was wary of Trump̵
Another Biden adviser said: “He will be more focused on solving problems and making progress than on pursuing them.”
Any approach by Biden’s Department of Justice to Trump, his staff, his associates, his business or his policies would not affect the investigations of government officials, including Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who is fighting for Trump’s tax returns.
As Biden tries to balance his own inclinations and pressure from his party, his advisers stress that he seeks to restore the momentum between the White House and the Department of Justice from what was under Trump.
Biden wants the Justice Department to function independently of the White House, aides said, and Biden will not tell federal law enforcement who or what to investigate or not to investigate.
“His overarching view is that we need to move the country forward,” the adviser said. “But the most important thing is that he will not interfere in his Ministry of Justice and not politicize his Ministry of Justice.”
Biden’s third adviser said that when it comes to investigations related to Trump, expectations are “it will be very situational” and “depending on the merits.” In general, Biden’s priorities will be the economy, the coronavirus, climate change and racial relations, without looking back at the Trump administration, the adviser said.
Presidents usually set the tone for what they think should be priorities for the Department of Justice, and questions about Trump’s investigations or retrospectives are expected to intensify as Biden approaches office.
“He can set the tone for what he thinks needs to be done,” a Biden adviser said. But the councilor said, “he will not be president to head the Justice Department in one way or another.”
Biden’s team is also reluctant to send a signal to Trump administration officials that the Justice Department will not review their actions, given that there are still nine weeks to take office, said another person informed of the discussions. “Although they are not seeking broad criminal charges, they want to make sure that people do not think there are consequences for any of their actions from now until the new presidency,” the man said.
Emphasizing a casual approach to the Justice Department could give Biden a cover for criticism from his supporters about the lack of investigations against Trump, his policies or his staff. Democrats have sharply criticized Trump’s direct influence on Justice Department investigations, including his calls for Biden and former President Barack Obama to be prosecuted on unspecified crimes. Many of his supporters would welcome the promise that Biden would not interfere in federal investigations.
But it will be difficult for Biden to avoid the problem altogether, given the expected calls to investigate a number of issues, including Trump, from his administration’s child separation policy to his taxes, possible conflicts of interest and potential violations of campaign finance law. . The problem could lead Biden to a confrontation with some of his own supporters, who are eager to carry out a wholesale inspection of the Trump presidency.
“There is also a strong school of thought that believes the law is the law,” a Biden adviser said, describing the internal debate.
Biden has said many times during the campaign that he will leave any decision on whether to prosecute Trump to his attorney general. “If that was the judgment that he had broken the law and should actually be prosecuted, so be it,” he said during a debate in Atlanta. “But I wouldn’t direct it.” Biden said he would not forgive Trump if it became a realistic issue.
Still, many aides said Biden was usually reluctant to see the Justice Department investigate Trump.
One of the reasons he has given aides is that he believes the investigations will alienate more than 73 million Americans who voted for Trump, insiders said. Some Democrats have said that Biden should prioritize the concerns of his supporters over his detractors.
The delicate balance between the responses of his own supporters and the unification of the country is partly why Biden acknowledges that his attorney general “will be one of the most important decisions he will make,” the councilor said.
Biden has vowed to sign an enforcement order declaring that any member of his administration will be dismissed if it is found that he “initiates, encourages, obstructs or otherwise improperly influences specific investigations or prosecutions in any way. is the reason. “
Biden’s dilemma is similar to the one Obama faced when he took office in 2009. Democrats have called for prosecution of Bush officials who have been involved in policies that allow for increased interrogation or torture. of terrorism suspects.
To reassure these Democrats, Obama issued notes on the controversial program and then publicly stated that he did not support the persecution of Bush administration officials who developed or implemented the policies. He also rejected calls for a 9/11 commission or a truth and reconciliation commission, such as the one investigating apartheid in South Africa, to reconsider policies.