The former president has been criminally charged for allegedly provoking the Capitol Hill riot
Joe Biden speaks to members of the media as he leaves the White House in Washington DC, December 23, 2023 © AP / Manuel Balce Ceneta
US President Joe Biden has said that he “can’t think of one” former president who should be immune from criminal prosecution. His comment came after the Supreme Court declined to hear a case that would have decided whether former President Donald Trump could be tried for instigating the 2021 Capitol Hill riot.
Asked by a reporter whether “any president at all” should be shielded from criminal charges, Biden replied on Saturday that he “can’t think of one.”
One day earlier, the US Supreme Court rejected a petition by government prosecutor Jack Smith to fast-track a decision on whether Trump could be tried over a speech he gave to his supporters before the January 6, 2021 riot on Capitol Hill. Prior to the incident, Trump told his followers to “fight like hell” against Biden’s electoral victory, which Congress was certifying that day.
Smith alleges that Trump’s speech – during which the then-president also encouraged his supporters to demonstrate “peacefully and patriotically” – provoked the riot. Smith charged Trump in August with conspiracy to defraud the US, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights.
Trump’s lawyers argue that such speeches were part of “his official responsibilities as president,” and that he is therefore immune from legal consequences. Trump himself has dismissed Smith’s case as a “pathetic attempt by the Biden Crime Family and their weaponized Department of Justice to interfere with the 2024 Presidential Election.”
Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the immunity issue will now be decided by a Washington, DC appeals court in January, with the losing side certain to take the case back up to the Supreme Court. This process will almost certainly delay Trump’s trial past its projected March 4 start date, potentially stalling it until after next year’s presidential election.
With the US economy flagging and Biden’s approval ratings stubbornly low, Biden has tried to portray Trump as an existential threat to democracy ahead of the two rivals’ looming electoral rematch. In a memo circulated earlier this week, Biden’s campaign manager, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, accused Trump of “election denialism,” adding that “We are treating this election like it will determine the fate of American democracy – because it will.”
Trump’s campaign spokesman, Steven Cheung, shot back that “Crooked Joe Biden is an existential threat to democracy by weaponizing lawfare and disenfranchising voters on a wide scale.”
As well as leading the January 6 case, Smith is also overseeing the prosecution of Trump over his alleged mishandling of classified documents, while the former president is facing state-level charges in Georgia and New York, as well as numerous civil lawsuits.
Biden is currently the subject of an impeachment inquiry led by congressional Republicans, with the probe centered around his alleged influence-peddling and involvement in his son’s foreign business dealings.