Joe Biden says he won't prosecute Trump after swearing-in: Has outgoing president struck a 'Nixon deal'?

Richard Nixon, who resigned from office following the Watergate Scandal in the 1970s, was pardoned by his successor Gerald Ford who said he wanted to move on

                            Joe Biden says he won't prosecute Trump after swearing-in: Has outgoing president struck a 'Nixon deal'?
President Donald Trump and president-elect Joe Biden (Getty Images)

Eleven years ago, then president Barack Obama refused to pursue officials of his immediate predecessor George W Bush for devising policies that led to harsh treatment of suspected terrorists. The Democrat, instead, wanted to move on. In 2020, president-elect Joe Biden, who was Obama’s No.2, has hinted at something similar vis-a-vis his controversial predecessor Donald Trump, who is yet not ready to concede defeat in this month’s presidential election.

Biden, 78, spoke with NBC’s Lester Holt on Tuesday, November 24, in which he touched upon a range of issues. While he refused to concede that his administration will be the "third term" of Obama since he has picked a number of faces who previously served in the administration of the former Democratic president, he also spoke in a tune similar to that of his former boss saying he will not prosecute Trump. “I will not do what this president does and use the Justice Department as my vehicle to insist that something happen,” Biden said in the interview, adding that he has not spoken to the GOP leader since the election. The two leaders faced each other in a couple of presidential debates ahead of the November 3 battle, the first of which met a huge criticism.

Biden said this when Holt asked him: “Some Democrats want investigations go to forward against President Trump after he leaves office. Do you support that?” The host referred to the New Jersey Representative Bill Pascrell, 83, who has sought the justice department to investigate “the entire Trump regime” and its “innumerable crimes”. But Biden’s take on the matter has been different. He has conceded that there is nothing he can do on the federal level against the incumbent. “There are a number of investigations that I've read about that are at a state level,” Biden said during the talks in the NBC Nightly News program in Wilmington, Delaware, adding: “There's nothing at all I can or cannot do about that.”

Biden, however, appreciated the Trump administration’s initiative in the transition process as “sincere”, a day after the General Services Administration ascertained the former’s victory and flagged off the process that he blocked since the election. “Immediately, we've gotten outreach from the national security shop to just across the board,” the president-elect said. “And they're already working out my ability to get presidential daily briefs,” he added. "So I think we're gonna not be so far behind the curve as we thought might be in the past. And I must say the outreach has been sincere — it has not been begrudging so far and I don't expect it to be,” Biden said in what some saw an effort to calm the critics who have been seeking a prosecution of the outgoing president.

Biden’s stance will disappoint people like Andrew Weissmann, a former senior prosecutor for special counsel Robet Mueller who looked into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election, said Trump needed to be held accountable for obstructing a special counsel investigation. According to him, Trump deserved to face the law because he felt his case is different from any other president in American history. Biden has also been facing pressure from some Democrats who want Trump’s financial dealings and charges that he sought help from foreign powers in the election, be probed further. When Trump’s tenure officially concludes in January, his constitutional protection from prosecution will cease to exist.

Looking back at Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon

According to political analysts, Trump might face the same relief that Richard Nixon had four-and-half decades ago. On September 8, 1974, then president Gerald Ford issued a presidential proclamation (Proclamation 4311) to grant full and unconditional pardon to his disgraced Republican predecessor for any crime(s) that he might have committed against the US while serving in office. The pardon covered in particular Nixon’s actions during the Watergate scandal. Ford, who succeeded Nixon after serving as his vice-president, said he felt the pardon was in the best interest of the nation and he wanted to put an end to an episode that could go on and on.

Former presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon (Getty Images)


On October 17 the same year, Ford explained to the Congress the reason for him choosing to pardon Nixon instead of allowing the Congress to take legal action against the latter. The Congress had accused Nixon of obstructing justice during the probe into the Watergate scandal which started two years earlier. White House tape recordings divulged that Nixon had the knowledge about and he even authorized the bugging of the Democratic National Committee offices located in the Watergate Hotel in DC. The man decided to resign on August 8, 1974, before getting impeached.

Ford’s decision to grant Nixon the pardon was not a popular decision though. While he said continuing with the trial would only have left the people of America polarized, it is said his decision to let Nixon off the hook cost him the presidential election of 1976 when Democratic Jimmy Carter won. Has something similar happened this time as well and could that put Biden in a tricky situation in the days to come?

Nixon, though, exhibited a conduct which is vastly different from that of Trump. He responded to the pardon from his home in California, admitting he was “wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate, particularly when it reached the stage of judicial proceedings and grew from a political scandal into a national tragedy”.

Could one expect a similar response from Trump even if Biden refuses to drag him into a legal quagmire?

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