WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden warned Wednesday that those “tasked with enforcing the law are abusing their powers,” offering a muted critique of the Trump administration a day after he declined to respond to President Donald Trump’s attacks directly.
Speaking to Columbia University Law School graduates via video, Biden urged them to “protect the very foundations of democracy.”
“Trust in self-governance. Because right now, it’s under attack,” the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee said. “The very people tasked with enforcing the rule of law are abusing their powers, protecting their friends, weakening the very principles that make our country work.”
His comments come amid escalating rhetoric from Trump and his allies pushing conspiracy theories and alleging improper behavior during the Obama administration.
Asked on Tuesday night how he’d respond to the allegations, Biden said, “I don’t want to get down in the mud with these guys.”
Speaking at a Yahoo News virtual town hall on Tuesday, Biden said Trump was trying to distract voters from his inadequate response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 90,000 Americans. Trump has said the virus will disappear “like a miracle.”
Broadly dubbing his allegations “Obamagate,” Trump has pointed to the legal case of his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, suggesting that the “unmasking” of Flynn’s name as part of legal U.S. surveillance of foreign targets was criminal and motivated by partisan politics.
There is no evidence of that, and Trump’s accusations misrepresent the facts of the case. The “unmasking” of people in surveillance reports is a routine, legal activity in government — the Trump administration made 10,012 such requests in 2019.
But they don’t often become public, and in the Flynn case, Trump supporters point to it as evidence that Obama loyalists were out to undermine Trump from the start. The president himself has called it the “biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA.”
“This is his pattern. Diversion, diversion, diversion, diversion,” Biden said Tuesday. “The greatest crime? I mean, my Lord.”
Trump’s cries of scandal come as the president and many top Republicans have used increasingly harsh rhetoric against Biden — hoping to foment doubt in voters’ minds as election season beings to heat up.
On Wednesday, a Senate committee led by Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson will vote on whether to issue a subpoena as part of an investigation into Biden’s son Hunter and his work for a Ukrainian natural gas company that grew out of Trump’s impeachment earlier this year.
Over the weekend, Trump’s two adult sons appeared to spread baseless, online conspiracy theories suggesting other criminal activity by Biden. Asked about that Tuesday, Biden called online posts about the matter “sick.”
“People know me. The good news is the bad news. They know me. They know my faults, they know my talents,” Biden said.
Pointing to his decades in the Senate and eight years as vice president, he continued, “It’s hard to lay on me some of the things that are just totally out of sync with anything in my whole life that anyone has ever said about me.”
Also Tuesday, Biden was asked about Trump’s firing of Steve Linick as the State Department’s inspector general. Some Republicans have defended the move, arguing that it was within the president’s rights, but Biden and other Democrats say it is part of a larger White House effort to undermine government oversight.
Biden promised not to fire any inspector general should he be elected, saying those positions were “designed to make government honest.”