(The Hill) — President Joe Biden is in a tough spot following the FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, facing a delicate dance of handling the situation while steadfastly appearing not to politically taint the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Republican lawmakers almost immediately lashed out at Biden following news of the search, which was shared by Trump himself, raising questions about how soon the former president might announce he’s running again in 2024. It comes as Biden navigates skepticism within his own party about whether he should seek reelection — a potential repeat match-up of 2020.
The White House insisted on Tuesday that Biden had no advance notice of the FBI search in Florida the day before, telling reporters that he learned of it through public reports and distancing itself from the DOJ’s investigation into Trump.
“The president and the White House learned about this FBI search from public reports. We learned just like the American public did yesterday, and we did not have advance notice of this activity,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
She described Biden as completely uninvolved, stressing the president believes the DOJ should conduct its investigations independently.
Democratic strategists argued that is the White House’s best move.
“Unlike Trump, who explicitly politicized the DOJ, and every Republican who cheered him on as they now cry crocodile tears, Biden is doing the right thing by letting the DOJ and FBI — whose director is a lifelong Republican appointed by Trump — do their job without notice to or direction from the White House,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale.
The dramatic step by the FBI, which is run by Trump appointee Christopher Wray, in searching the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate has increased speculation that Trump is in legal jeopardy. The search was reportedly focused on the retention of classified materials and came after the FBI secured a search warrant from a federal magistrate judge.
Trump has decried the situation as politically motivated. As news of the search broke Monday night, the White House would only say that it “did not have notice of the reported action.”
Republican strategist Doug Heye argued that the president’s best strategy is to avoid politicizing the operation to show the differences between Biden and Trump.
“Biden should resist acting as Trump did in politicizing the Department of Justice and FBI and remain above the fray. And he should make that clear every opportunity he gets,” Heye said.
One Democratic strategist said all Biden has to do is “get out of the way.”
“Get out of the way and stay out of the way and let him implode,” the strategist said. “He was bound to implode sooner or later. All the better now while Biden is gaining wins.”
A Democratic donor agreed, adding that the White House should keep quiet.
“Sometimes silence says it all,” the donor said. “Silence is the way to go.”
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The search comes as speculation grows over whether — and when — Trump will announce his candidacy in 2024 and whether Biden will be too old if he runs in the next presidential election cycle.
Biden said in an interview that month that he wouldn’t be disappointed if 2024 was a rematch between himself and Trump.
Biden will be 81 years old in 2024. Last month, Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips (Minn.) said he would not support Biden if he ran for reelection.
Other Democrats have dodged the question entirely.
“Is the timing of this event politically awkward? Sure. With Trump around, it always will be. Nonetheless, the FBI and the Justice Department must do their work despite the political environment,” said former Rep. Chris Carney (D-Pa.), a Biden ally.
“Regardless of the fact we are in a highly charged political environment, the Justice Department still has a job to do. The accused will always cry ‘political persecution.’ It’s noteworthy that FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee, saw enough evidence to pursue the warrant,” he added.
Many Republicans blamed Biden himself for the search, suggesting that he was using the DOJ to go after a political opponent. When asked how the White House might combat this message — and address how much of the American public might actually believe that — Jean-Pierre continued to refuse to comment, saying she would not talk about any investigation by the DOJ.
Some Republican lawmakers Monday night invoked the president’s son Hunter Biden, who is under federal investigation for his worldwide business dealings, suggesting that federal authorities had not been probing that matter as intensely as Trump’s.
But the White House has doubled down on its approach to remove President Biden from the Trump situation, saying he had not been briefed on the search as of Tuesday and insisted on not getting dragged into it.
Jean-Pierre on Tuesday also would not reveal whether Attorney General Merrick Garland signed off on the search or say if the president had spoken to Garland, whom he appointed.
Heye argued that given the distrust of the DOJ and the FBI that was largely established under Trump, someone in the current administration should answer lingering questions about the search.
”It’s critical that Garland and/or Wray answer whatever questions they can as soon as possible,” Heye said.
Despite many unanswered questions and outrage from Trump and his allies, Democratic strategist Joel Payne suggested the president should stay “above the fray.”
“President Biden does not have to lean into this news,” Payne said. “It tells its story organically. The contrast is clear between the two men, for better and worse.”
Amie Parnes contributed to this report.