Former Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that he would not pardon President Donald Trump if elected and insisted any prosecutorial decisions would be left to a more independent Justice Department.
Answering questions in a virtual town hall-style event on MSNBC Thursday, the Democratic presidential hopeful was asked by a voter about whether he’d follow the lead of former President Gerald Ford, who pardoned Richard Nixon in large part to help the nation move beyond the Watergate scandal.
Biden, while not speaking to any specific potential charge, committed to ensuring that any prosecutorial decisions would be dictated by the law, in contrast to what he called the "dereliction of duty” by Trump and his attorney general, William Barr.
"It's hands off completely. The attorney general is not the president's lawyer. It's the people's lawyer,” Biden said. “We never saw anything like the prostitution of that office like we see it today.”
During the exchange, Biden was also asked to clarify whether he was aware of or participated in decisions related to incoming Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn during his final weeks as vice president in 2017. The president and his allies this week have accused Biden and former President Barack Obama of a conspiracy to entrap Flynn as part of a larger scheme to undercut the incoming administration, which they have dubbed “Obamagate."
The Justice Department announced last week their intent to drop the case against Flynn, a decision the judge in the case is now weighing after Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI.
"I was never a part or had any knowledge of any criminal investigation into Flynn while I was in office, period. Not one single time,” Biden told O’Donnell.
The answer clarified what he had told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos days earlier when asked about a January 5 meeting in the Oval Office in which Flynn was discussed. Biden was asked how he didn’t know anything about the FBI investigating Flynn at the time when “you were reported to be at a Jan. 5, 2017, meeting where you and the president were briefed on the FBI's plan to question Michael Flynn over those conversations he had with the Russian Ambassador Kislyak.”
That question was not accurate, according to a senior Obama administration official with direct knowledge of the meeting, who said the meeting did not include any discussion of an FBI investigation into Flynn or of FBI questioning of Flynn about his contacts with the Russians.
Much of Thursday’s hour-long Q&A with Biden was focused on how he as president would respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and included a notable personnel commitment.
“I hope if I'm president that Dr. Fauci will stay on in the administration,” Biden said, offering a vote of confidence in the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases as Trump has ratcheted up criticism of him.