Taking cues from former Presidents Gerald Ford and Barack Obama—who pardoned or ignored their predecessors' crimes in the name of national unity and healing—President-elect Joe Biden has privately signaled to advisers that he is unlikely to pursue federal investigations of the Trump administration's policies and actions, NBC News reported Tuesday.
According to the report, the president-elect has expressed concerns that investigating President Donald Trump or holding members of his administration accountable for wrongdoing would further divide a nation already deeply riven by political tensions, and that focusing on Trump would distract Biden from his forward-looking agenda.
Biden is said to be especially wary of probing Trump's taxes or trying to undo any immunity the president may grant to his associates during his final weeks in office.
Put simply, one adviser said Biden "just wants to move on."
"He's going to be more oriented toward fixing the problems and moving forward than prosecuting them," another Biden confidant told NBC News.
Progressive critics, however, took the news report as a warning signal, not a sign of political wisdom on Biden's part.
"His overarching view is that we need to move the country forward," an aide said. "But the most important thing on this is that he will not interfere with his Justice Department and not politicize his Justice Department."
One adviser stressed that while Biden and his Justice Department will likely not go after Trump, their decision does not affect state-level investigations such as Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.'s probe of Trump's tax returns.
Biden's position, which was widely anticipated, drew comparisons with his former boss Obama, who while campaigning for president in 2007 and 2008 pledged to investigatethe Bush administration officials responsible for CIA and U.S. military torture and to hold accountable the Wall Street bankers and other capitalists whose criminal actions helped cause and exacerbate the 2008 global economic crisis.
However, once in office Obama not only declined to prosecute any of the Bush war criminals, his administration actively protected and promoted them—one of whom,Gina Haspel, now directs the CIA. And while not one Wall Street criminal was sent to jail by the Obama administration for the kind of fraud that led to the economic collapse, many top financial executives ended up in the Obama White House to shape and guide economic policy.
"We need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards," Obama said in regard to investigating and prosecuting CIA torturers shortly before taking office in January 2009. "At the CIA, you've got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don't want them to suddenly feel like they've got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders and lawyering."
Biden's apparent rejection of federal accountability for Trump's actions also evoked memories of Ford's 1974 pardon of his former boss and close friend Richard Nixon in the name of ensuring "domestic tranquility" and avoiding "ugly passions [that] would again be aroused" in the wake of the "long national nightmare" of Watergate.
According to the Biden advisers interviewed by NBC News, the president-elect believes that investigating Trump would arouse plenty of ugly passions in a nation whose people are arguably more divided than they've been in half a century—or, according to some observers, since the Civil War.
Americans wanting to see Trump—only the third U.S. president to have ever been impeached—face justice must now pin their hopes on state prosecutors as Biden prioritizes being "a president who seeks not to divide, but unify" over holding his predecessor accountable.