WASHINGTON — Does President Joe Biden have any reaction to the indictment of former President Donald Trump? Is he concerned about possible protests or that the unprecedented indictment could further divide the nation? What does the indictment mean for the rule of law in the United States?
Biden’s answer on Friday was the same each time: No comment, no comment, no comment.
“I’m not going to talk about Trump’s indictment,” Biden said firmly as he departed the White House en route to Mississippi, where he toured storm damage.
In his brief exchange with reporters, the Democratic president underscored the broader tactics that his administration is trying to take as it relates to the Republican former president’s indictment by a Manhattan grand jury: Take the political temperature down, stay out of active criminal matters, focus on Biden’s agenda and priorities.
It may become more difficult as Trump’s legal matters progress. But at least in their initial approach on Friday, Biden and other top administration officials were sticking to their playbook.
“I am not going to comment on an ongoing criminal case as it relates to the former president,” Vice President Kamala Harris said during a news conference in Lusaka, Zambia, part of her weeklong trip across Africa.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, speaking to reporters on Air Force One en route to Mississippi, added: “Look, we’re just not going to comment on any ongoing case, and I will just leave it there.”
The press secretary did stress that Biden supports peaceful protests and that the administration is always prepared for any contingencies. Biden found out about the indictment of his predecessor through news reports on Thursday, like other Americans, Jean-Pierre added.
But otherwise, the White House would have no comment.
The nature of the charges against Trump was unclear because the indictment remained under seal, but they stem from payments made during the 2016 presidential campaign to silence claims of an extramarital sexual encounter. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
One head of state did have something to say: Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, who appeared alongside Harris during the news conference Friday.
When asked what Trump’s indictment exemplifies in terms of the rule of law in the United States, Hichilema said that “regulations create a platform or framework around which we agree either as Americans or as Zambians to govern ourselves” and to “live within those confines.”
“When there’s transgression against the law, it does not matter who is involved,” Hichilema said. “I think that is what the rule of law means.”
But to be clear, Hichilema wasn’t talking directly about Trump, either.
“I think let’s remove names from your question,” he said in response, later adding: “I take out a name. I put in place of a name what we citizens of our countries, citizens of the global community, must do to — as we exercise our rights and freedoms.”
Story by Seung Min Kim. Associated Press reporter Chris Megerian contributed to this report from Lusaka, Zambia.