Biden slams Trump for conviction as prospects fade of more pre-election trials

Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN

CNN  — 

President Joe Biden’s decision to call out his predecessor Donald Trump as a “convicted felon” for the first time represents a significant hardening of his rhetoric against his Republican general election foe.

Biden’s escalation at an off-camera fundraiser in Connecticut on Monday evening came as some Democrats pressed for a more robust political attack on the presumptive Republican nominee following his guilty verdict in his New York hush money trial last week.

“For the first time in American history a former president that is a convicted felon is now seeking the office of the presidency,” Biden said. “But as disturbing as that is, more damaging is the all-out assault Donald Trump is making on the American system of justice.”

Other Democratic officials have used such rhetoric. But the phrase took on greater force coming from the mouth of the president himself. While Republicans have rallied around Trump since his conviction, it remains unclear how the verdict will go down in swing states where the shift in a few thousand votes could decide November’s election.

Biden’s remark was yet another stunning turn in an election entangled in Trump’s multiple legal threats. It came on a day when the first family was embroiled in its own extraordinary courtroom drama as Biden’s son Hunter became the first child of a sitting president to go on trial. The younger Biden has pleaded not guilty to charges of buying and possessing a gun illegally while addicted to or abusing drugs. He also faces a tax trial in September.

Last week, Biden noted that Trump had been convicted on 34 felony counts and said it was “reckless … dangerous … and irresponsible” for his opponent to say the verdict was rigged. Presidential remarks in off-camera fundraisers can often serve as a test bed for rhetoric that later emerges in public events. But Biden’s sharpened tone will certainly lead to accusations by the Trump campaign that the former president’s conviction came after a process of political weaponization of the justice system.

In another significant legal development Monday, Trump got good news from Georgia, where he is among multiple defendants in a racketeering case over his attempt to steal the swing state from Biden’s column in the 2020 election. The Georgia Court of Appeals set oral arguments for October 4 over an effort to remove Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from the case.

It was just the latest blow to prosecutors pursuing Trump over his election interference case. The timing of the arguments — only a month before Election Day — makes for an impossibly short timeframe for a trial. The Georgia case, in which Trump has pleaded not guilty, has been delayed by defendants’ attempt to disqualify Willis after she employed a prosecutor with whom she was in a relationship.

Other Trump cases are in suspended animation

Two federal cases against Trump, in which he’s also pleaded not guilty, are in a holding pattern.

The US Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on Trump’s sweeping demand for immunity for actions he undertook while president. The justices could still deliver a definitive ruling, but any decision that requires further litigation in lower courts could mean time runs out in special counsel Jack Smith’s election interference case with only five months to go before Election Day. At the same time, multiple disputes in pre-trial motions have put the looming federal trial in Florida over Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents into suspended animation. Democrats have accused Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon of showing political bias in her rulings.

The logjam on multiple fronts means that it may prove impossible for the US legal system to account for the alleged attempt by a former president to stay in power against the will of voters before he has the chance to win another mandate. In itself, the delay represents a significant threat to American democracy’s bid to save itself since it suggests that a future president who acted the same way Trump did might expect impunity.

Trump’s avoidance of accountability over 2020 election interference — through a mixture of skilled litigation by his lawyers, some backfiring decisions by prosecutors and luck — would also hugely raise the stakes of November’s election.

If Trump loses, his future after already losing one criminal case looks incredibly grim, with three cases that are likely to eventually get to trials that will entail massive legal fees. But if Trump wins, he could appoint an attorney general who could halt the federal cases in their tracks. And his Justice Department would be sure to make every effort to delay or defray any negative outcome he faces in the Georgia case as well as the New York hush money conviction that is due to proceed to sentencing on July 11. Given the personal stakes, it’s reasonable to assume Trump will not stop at anything to regain power at a time when he’s refusing to guarantee accepting the result of the 2024 election.

Ty Cobb, a former Trump White House counsel, told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Monday that the date set in Georgia in October means there is “no possibility of this case going to trial before the election.” And he added that the chances were rising that Trump could avoid any legal accountability for his actions in 2020 if he wins in 2024.

“It’s very real if he wins the election, it’s not real at all if he loses,” Cobb said. Referring to the federal election interference case and the classified documents matter, Cobb said, “Both of those will end up going at some point if Trump loses in early to mid next year and the Georgia case will likely follow that along.”

History made in Delaware

The sluggish pace of Trump’s criminal trials contrasts with the efficiency of those facing Hunter Biden, who’s also due to face trial on tax charges in September.

The cases of the former president and the current president’s son are not analogous, and those surrounding Trump are hugely complicated. But they are sure to leave many Democrats marveling at the prospect that the only federal trial entangled with this year’s election could be one that is targeting Hunter Biden and not Trump, whose actions after the 2020 election stretched US democracy to its limit.

Joe Biden pledged on Monday not to comment on the outcome of a federal trial, but in a statement, he expressed boundless love for his son and his respect for his success in overcoming addiction to crack cocaine. “I am the President, but I am also a dad,” Biden said.

Biden’s cranked up rhetoric at the Monday fundraiser follows a warning by Trump in an interview with Fox News broadcast on Sunday of the consequences if Judge Juan Merchan imposed any jail term following the guilty verdict last week.

“I’m not sure the public would stand for it,” the former president said. “I think it’d be tough for the public to take. You know, at a certain point, there’s a breaking point.” Some senior Democrats accused Trump of inciting violence in his remarks, which took on a more ominous complexion given his past invocation to supporters to “fight like hell” before the mob attack by his supporters on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

“This is clearly Donald Trump once again inciting violence, potential violence, when he is sentenced,” Rep. Adam Schiff told Kasie Hunt on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.  The California Democrat accused Trump of issuing “yet another dangerous appeal to violence.”

The extraordinary tangling of the 2024 election and legal cases weighing on both Trump and Biden is likely to dominate a hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday when Attorney General Merrick Garland will brave a new grilling by Republicans.

Garland vowed to restore trust in the legal system when he took office following the tumultuous Trump years by making sure everyone plays by the same rules.

Three years on, he’s frustrated much of Washington with a quest that looks quaint in an era when judges, prosecutors and juries in a proliferating wave of politically loaded cases are under almost constant attack.

But hostility toward Garland has not come just from Republicans, who will be looking for vengeance on Tuesday following Trump’s conviction. Democrats fret over the slow pace of the federal investigations. And the White House complained to Garland after special counsel Robert Hur’s report on Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents portrayed the president’s memory as significantly degraded in a report that unleashed weeks of political reverberations, CNN reported.

Garland is also likely to face scrutiny over the Hunter Biden trial. House Republicans have seized on the case to try to damage the president politically, especially after failing to provide any evidence that he profited from Hunter Biden’s business dealings in their misfiring impeachment investigation.

Republicans celebrated when a plea deal, which they saw as “sweetheart” treatment for Hunter Biden, collapsed in court. But the Hunter Biden trial, as well as a federal corruption trial targeting New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, undercuts Republican claims of a biased justice system made in the wake of the Trump verdict in New York last week.

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