Donald Trump has a new reason to want a victory in November, if there weren’t enough already: If Joe Biden becomes president, Trump might well be exposed to prosecution for his many questionable deeds. Biden has made it official, according to Politico:
Former Vice President Joe Biden vowed Thursday that, if elected to the White House in November, he would not use his new executive powers to pardon President Donald Trump of any potential crimes.
The pledge from the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee came during a virtual town hall on MSNBC, when Biden was asked by a voter whether he would be willing to commit “to not pulling a President Ford” and pardoning Trump “under the pretense of healing the nation.”
“Absolutely, yes. I commit,” Biden responded, adding: “It’s hands-off completely. Look, the attorney general of the United States is not the president’s lawyer. It’s the people’s lawyer.”
Since Trump’s Justice Department has taken the position that the president cannot be federally indicted while in office, the question of postpresidential criminal liability has been a lively issue, as Conor Shaw observed last year:
When a prosecutor grants a witness immunity in exchange for her cooperation and testimony, or when a prosecutor agrees not to prosecute a company in exchange for factual admissions and promises to take corrective actions, the government is bound by that agreement as long as the potential defendant holds up her or its end of the bargain. That is not so for an individual who no longer holds the public office that DOJ deems to be constitutionally protected from prosecution.
And were federal prosecutors inclined in that direction, there would be a lot of raw material to examine, notes Politico:
Trump has faced legal scrutiny throughout his administration for a variety of alleged misconduct related to his acceptance of foreign government money through his luxury Washington hotel, his participation in dubious tax schemes while building his real estate empire, and his involvement in a hush money payment to a porn star in the run-up to the 2016 election — which resulted in federal prosecutors implicating him in his former attorney’s campaign finance crimes.
Meanwhile, Trump has also drawn significant criticism from congressional Democrats and former federal law enforcement officials, who charge that the president has sought to manipulate the Justice Department to advance a political agenda and serve his personal interests rather than those of the nation.
The precedent, of course, that motivated the question posed to Biden was the “full, free, and absolute pardon” that President Gerald Ford gave his immediate predecessor Richard Nixon shortly after succeeding the Tricky One upon his coerced resignation in 1974. It was a highly controversial act that likely damaged Ford’s 1976 presidential bid, in no small part because the timing suggested he might have promised Nixon a pardon either before he was lifted to the vice-presidency in 1973, or before the resignation made him president.
Since none of these intraparty complications are relevant to the Biden-Trump relationship, it’s unlikely anybody really thinks Biden would go to the aid of the man so many of his supporters find terrifying and evil. I mean, sure, Biden claims an interest in bringing back bipartisanship, but there would be rioting in the streets if he were to send Trump back to Mar-a-Lago with a clean legal bill of health. Besides, Trump in defeat might very well try to stage a comeback in 2024, so letting his misdeeds keep him tied up in court would only be prudent. And all Joe Biden has to do is keeps his “hands off” the prosecutors as they work through the vast landscape of Trumpian misconduct.