Debates 2020

Joe Biden: 'I Don't Think It's a Good Idea That We Model Ourselves After Trump and Say Lock Him Up'

Biden says he wouldn't direct the Justice Department to investigate Trump.


Former Vice President Joe Biden said he wouldn't direct the Justice Department to investigate Donald Trump if he became president.

Biden made the remark during tonight's Democratic primary debate hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post. After noting some crowds have started chanting "lock him up" about President Donald Trump, moderators asked Biden if he would support a criminal investigation of Trump after he leaves office.

"Look, I would not direct my Justice Department like this president does," Biden said. "I'd let them make their independent judgment. I would not dictate who should be prosecuted or exonerated. That's not the role of the president of the United States. It's the Attorney General of the United States, not the president's private attorney."

"I don't think it's a good idea that we model ourselves after Trump and say lock him up," Biden continued. "… That's not who we are, that's not who we've been, and that's not who we should be. Follow the law and let the Justice Department make the judgment of whether someone should be prosecuted. Period."

Biden's record of pushing legislation that contributed to mass incarceration aside, his answer is a refreshingly considered stance on the seriousness of using a bully pulpit and the Justice Department to please crowds or settle a political grudge.

It's not a particularly popular stance among either Republicans or Biden's Democratic opponents. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D–Vt.), for instance, said tonight that the fossil fuel industry is "possibly criminally liable" for climate change and "maybe we should think about prosecuting them as well."

Casual talk of locking up political opponents makes us callous to the reality of prison. The criminal justice system isn't a plaything for presidents, and going to prison isn't a joke.