Biden world weighs tackling Trump verdict

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The Biden campaign is bracing for a verdict in former President Trump’s criminal trial, weighing how best to go on the attack should their November opponent become a convicted felon.

The campaign sought to use the media spectacle in Manhattan on Tuesday by holding a press conference outside the courthouse just as Trump’s attorneys set off on closing arguments. In attendance were actor Robert De Niro and officers who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to speak on behalf of President Biden to warn of the dangers of another Trump presidency.

Now with jury deliberations underway, and a verdict that could come at any time, Biden and his campaign will likely have to tackle the outcome head on — but that could come with consequences.

“Because we don’t have a verdict, the Biden campaign right now is in a very delicate situation where the last thing you’d want to do is to play up this big trial and then have Trump be found not guilty,” said David Hopkins, an associate professor of political science at Boston College.

The White House has thus far avoided weighing in on Trump’s trial at all costs, aiming to combat any impression that it is putting its thumb on the scales in an ongoing legal matter involving a political opponent.

But the Biden campaign and Biden himself in recent weeks have attempted to at least wade into the matter, making winking references to the former president’s legal proceedings, such as when Biden quipped that Trump was “free on Wednesdays,” a nod to the only weekday Trump was guaranteed to not have to be in court while witnesses took the stand.

A source familiar with the campaign’s thinking said it’s still an open question whether they will aggressively brand Trump as a “convicted felon” should he be found guilty.

Sources said Biden will likely address the outcome of the trial in some fashion, though no formal remarks are currently planned.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dodged multiple questions this week about whether Biden would speak about the eventual verdict.

“I do not speak and will not speak on any ongoing cases, even in a hypothetical speculative way,” Jean-Pierre said Wednesday.

One former White House aide argued the Biden team’s strategy to deal with the trial is smart.

“One underrated pillar of good communications is don’t always communicate about things you can’t control. The trial has so many variables, outcomes, and nuances — none of which the campaign can control. I think their strategy of generally avoiding the circus show is wise,” the former aide said.

But that strategy visibly shifted on Tuesday as the campaign sought to break through the noise around the trial by trotting out celebrities like De Niro.

When asked why the campaign decided to hold its event in Manhattan on Tuesday, Biden’s communication director Michael Tyler said “you all are here,” referring to the trials’ massive media presence.

“It’s easy to talk about the choice in this election when the entire news media is here day in and day out,” Tyler said.

He also said that the Biden campaign wanted to warn against Trump ahead of the first presidential debate, which is set for June.

“We want to remind the American people ahead … of the first debate on June 27 of the unique, persistent, growing threat Donald Trump poses to the American people and towards democracy,” Tyler said.

The De Niro press conference had mixed reviews, with Trump railing against De Niro on Truth Social, calling him a “Wacko Former actor.”

Veteran Republican strategist Karl Rove said it was a “big mistake” and “stupid” to have De Niro, along with two Jan. 6 police officers, show up near the courthouse.

David Axelrod, a senior adviser in the Obama White House, called the decision to use De Niro as a surrogate a “head scratcher” that may have been lost on younger voters.

Meanwhile, some Democrats thought it was successful because it drove the news of the day in a way Biden’s typical remarks sometimes struggle to do.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday that the De Niro appearance was an opportunity to get a piece of media frenzy outside the Trump courthouse.

“If you look at the image you’ve got up on the TV right now, there are more microphones there than there are in the entire island nation of Taiwan,” Coons said. “So I suspect he’s there because you’re there.”

While there was no mention of the trial itself by the surrogates outside the courthouse, moving forward, President Biden and his advisers are weighing how aggressively to go after Trump at a time when issues like inflation are more at the forefront for millions of voters.

“What the campaign’s message will be to voters is, regardless of what the verdict is, that the only way to stop Donald Trump … is beating him at the ballot box,” the source familiar with the campaign’s thinking said.

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