White House Says ‘Independent’ DOJ Will Decide On Criminally Prosecuting Trump

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Topline

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday declined to say whether President Joe Biden supports civil action or criminal prosecution against former President Donald Trump for the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, underscoring the White House’s desire to move past the prior administration now that Trump’s Senate impeachment trial has concluded.

Key Facts

During a press briefing on Tuesday, Psaki emphasized that the White House is ready to focus its full attention on the Covid-19 pandemic and economic relief, specifically getting its $1.9 trillion stimulus plan through Congress.

Psaki wouldn’t say whether Biden supports a civil lawsuit brought against Trump, Rudy Giuliani and the Proud Boys by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and the NAACP, stating he “supports the rights of individuals… to take steps through the judicial process.”

Asked about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan to establish an independent, 9/11-style commission to investigate the attack, Psaki said it’s “certainly one the president would support” but that it’s ultimately up to Congress, not the White House.

Psaki declined to say whether the White House supports criminal prosecution for Trump over the attack, telling reporters “I am not going to speculate on criminal prosecution from the White House podium.”

Psaki instead said it will be “up to the Department of Justice to determine,” adding, “We’re doing something new here, and there’s going to be an independent Justice Department” to “determine what any path forward and any investigation would look like.”

Key Background

Biden repeatedly vowed during the campaign to keep politics out of the Justice Department’s agenda, lambasting Trump’s Justice Department as the “Department of Trump” for its alleged politicization. Career Justice Department officials came forward last year to accuse political appointees of meddling in investigations for Trump’s benefit.

Crucial Quote

“We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation. And former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one,” Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell said in a floor speech following his vote to acquit Trump, adding that the ex-president is “still liable for everything he did in office.”

Surprising Fact

Nearly a month into the Biden administration, the Department of Justice is still without a permanent head. The Senate Judiciary Committee last week set a Feb. 28 hearing date for Biden’s attorney general nominee, D.C. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland. Garland is poised to be confirmed by early March.

What To Watch For

Regardless of whether Trump faces federal scrutiny, he is also staring down the barrels of multiple state and local probes. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is investigating Trump’s finances, while Georgia prosecutors are reportedly looking into a call in which he urged Georgia election officials to “find” the votes he needed to win the state.