By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland
REHOBOTH BEACH, Delaware (Reuters) – As Donald Trump was being indicted for a third time Tuesday evening, U.S. President Joe Biden was headed to Matt’s Fish Camp, a chowder and fried fish restaurant near his Delaware beach house, for an early supper.
The White House kept the pool of reporters who travel with Biden far from the president, allowing him to avoid questions and neatly maintain his long, deliberate silence about his top Republican political opponent’s mounting legal problems.
After dinner Biden, who is on vacation for the week, headed to a screening of “Oppenheimer,” again with reporters kept initially at bay, as special counsel Jack Smith spoke on Trump’s four criminal counts. Smith called Trump’s alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 election “an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy.”
The White House and the Biden re-election campaign declined comment on Tuesday. “We would refer you to the Justice Department, which conducts its criminal investigations independently,” said Ian Sams, a White House spokesperson.
Trump’s mounting legal woes, and Biden’s silence, come as the two combatants in the 2020 presidential election inch closer to a rematch in November 2024. From a political horse race point of view, Biden is following a well-worn playbook: When your opponent is in trouble, stand clear and avoid any backlash.
The White House under most presidents has historically tried to avoid any appearance that it is influencing the Justice Department, and the Biden administration has taken special pains to try to separate the two.
“The Department of Justice is independent,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters last Friday. “You hear us say this all the time: We believe in the rule of law. The president has been very consistent on that.”
The charges are the latest jolt for Trump, the first president in U.S. history to face criminal charges.
Trump was charged in June with unlawful retention of classified government documents after leaving office in 2021 and obstructing justice, and in March was indicted in New York on charges related to hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels.
Biden spoke passionately about the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol on its one year anniversary, accusing Trump of spinning a “web of lies.” But he’s limited his comments to policy differences and the direction he feels Trump and his “MAGA Republicans” would take the country as the DOJ investigation progressed.
His silent approach may be tested in months to come, as Trump loudly accuses what he calls “the Biden Crime Family” of using the Justice Department to prosecute him. Trump was summoned to appear in federal court in Washington on Thursday.
The “Biden Crime Family” reference is one Trump uses to highlight the legal travails faced by Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, who has been facing tax evasion charges and a gun charge.Polls show a tight race between Biden, 80, and Trump, 77, with 15 months to go before Election Day.
(Reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason; Editing by Heather Timmons and Michael Perry)