Another trial, this one of Biden’s son, will deepen the election’s legal entanglement

Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN

CNN — 

The political spotlight of a presidential election entangled in unprecedented legal drama will shift this week from the criminal trial of a former president to one of a sitting president’s son as the campaign enters an intense new phase.

Four days after presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump was convicted on 34 counts in his hush money trial in New York, President Joe Biden’s son Hunter will be called to answer for federal gun charges in Wilmington, Delaware. The trial promises to be a moment of searing personal anguish for the president and comes as he’s seeking to find a political opening after weeks of coverage of Trump’s case.

Later this week, the president is expected to issue a sweeping executive action that would dramatically limit migrants’ ability to seek asylum at the southern border. The move, a pivotal moment of Biden’s term and the campaign, will be seen as an effort to blunt Trump’s advantage on an issue that is a foundation of his political career. But it could also risk angering progressive voters who are vital to the president’s hopes of victory in November but have soured on some of his policies, including his support for Israel.

Democrats will also seek this week to highlight what they warn are extreme right-wing policies on abortion as the heat of the campaign ratchets up ahead of the first presidential debate, on CNN, at the end of the month.

Biden’s effort to seize the initiative in a too-close-to-call campaign will come as the reverberations multiply over the first conviction of a former president and major party nominee. Republicans have mostly closed rank around Trump, claiming that he is a victim of weaponized justice, and the former president’s team and the Republican National Committee are boasting about what they say is a $70 million fundraising spurt following the verdict. Democrats are, meanwhile, debating how to leverage Trump’s conviction, with some calling for a sharper effort to blast Biden’s foe as a convicted felon. It’s too early to tell whether the guilty verdict will have a significant political impact in a nation long polarized by attitudes toward the former president.

But a CBS/YouGov poll released Sunday showed that Americans believe 57% to 43% that the Manhattan jury reached the right verdict. And in a new ABC/Ipsos poll, Americans said by a roughly 2-to-1 margin that the verdict was right; however, views of Trump were barely changed from before the jury’s decision.

Trump was convicted of falsifying business records to hide a payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election. He had pleaded not guilty and plans to appeal.

While the charges in the New York hush money case are considered the least politically damaging of four criminal cases against Trump, the conviction represents an ignominious moment for a twice-impeached former president who had previously enjoyed a lifetime of impunity. The trial will resonate throughout the campaign, since Trump’s sentencing is set for July 11, just four days before the opening of the Republican National Convention, and the former president is vowing to turn November’s election into personal vindication over what he inaccurately claims is political persecution by the Biden administration.

Trump compares the US to South American dictatorships

The Republican embrace of the party’s presumptive nominee — despite his conviction by a jury of his own peers — is a remarkable spectacle as one of the country’s two major parties effectively turns its back on the rule of law. The move suggests that in a possible second term that Trump has vowed to use as “retribution” against his political foes, he would be unconstrained by his party and potentially the law.

Trump told Fox News in an interview aired Sunday morning that he was a victim. “It’s weaponization, and it’s a very dangerous thing. We’ve never had that in this country. They do have it in other countries, in South American countries,” he said. His inflammatory remarks did not reflect the fact that his refusal to accept his 2020 election loss and his demagoguery are far more reflective of developing-world banana republics than a fair jury trial.

Lara Trump, the ex-president’s daughter-in-law and the RNC co-chair, told CNN’s Kasie Hunt on “State of the Union” on Sunday that Trump had been treated unfairly. “If his name had been anything other than Donald Trump, this case would have never seen the light of day,” she said. “What people are seeing now is that they can’t trust our judicial system. (People) are very worried about the America that we are facing if this is the precedent we are setting in the United States.”

Democrats are rejecting the GOP claim that Trump could never get a fair trial in New York because it’s a liberal city. Some key party figures are also seeking to exploit the guilty verdict politically, even as Biden has stayed largely above the fray after saying the verdict showed no one was above the law. California Rep. Adam Schiff, who is running for the Senate, had a simple answer for Trump’s complaints about the jury pool in the city where the former president made his name.

“That jury was selected in part by Donald Trump and his attorneys. They vetted each of the jurors. He had every right that every other criminal defendant has in that courtroom,” Schiff said, also on “State of the Union” on Sunday. “This ordinary jury of peers found him guilty on every single count. So, if you don’t want to be tried in New York, don’t commit crimes in New York.”

Biden spotted with son ahead of his trial

The start of jury selection in the first-ever trial of a child of a sitting president could blunt claims by the GOP that the Justice Department targets only Republicans at a time when a Democratic senator, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, is also on trial in New York. The indictment of Hunter Biden was brought by Trump-appointed prosecutor David Weiss, who was elevated to special counsel by Attorney General Merrick Garland last year to oversee the probe. The president’s only living son is accused of illegally purchasing and possessing a gun while abusing or being addicted to drugs, a violation of federal law. He has pleaded not guilty to the three charges.

The White House has ruled out the possibility of a pardon, but the president has said his son did nothing wrong and that he has turned his life around after struggles with alcohol and crack cocaine addiction. Hunter Biden is entitled to the same presumption of innocence and a trial by a jury of his peers that Trump was. In a symbolic show of support, the president was seen with his son on a bike ride near his Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, home Saturday.

While Democrats hope to use Trump’s conviction in their quest to win over independent and moderate voters in the swing states that decide the election, they will also try this week to get more political oxygen for their key campaign themes after the ex-president’s trial dominated headlines since mid-April.

As well as Biden’s big immigration announcement, Democrats will seek to train attention on hardline Republican policies on abortion. The Democratic National Committee is, for instance, planning to highlight on Monday a Texas Supreme Court ruling last week that said a medical exemption in the state’s new abortion law applies only when there is a risk of death or serious physical impairment. Democrats say the law is the kind of measure Republicans would seek to implement nationwide if Trump, who built the Supreme Court majority that overturned Roe v. Wade, wins a second term. The ex-president insists, however, abortion policy should be left to the states.

Democrats line up abortion attacks

In another sign of a widening Democratic offensive on reproductive rights, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York announced he will hold a vote on a “right to contraception” bill Wednesday as Democrats mark two years this month since the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide constitutional right to an abortion. “Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans will not be able to outrun their anti-abortion records, because the American people know that if given the chance, extremist Republicans will not stop in their campaign to strip away fundamental liberties in this country,” Schumer said in a letter to his Democratic caucus.

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries on Sunday previewed how his party is seeking to simultaneously stress Trump’s conviction and autocratic rhetoric while trying to get attention for its own agenda. The New York Democrat said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that a jury had delivered justice in an “affirmation of the American judicial system,” adding, “This is America. We are not a system that is occupied by a monarch or a king or a dictator. We are a democracy, and in a democracy, no one is above the law.”

Jeffries also pivoted to a broader campaign message, arguing that Democrats would lower housing costs and tackle high prices, which are souring many people on the president’s economic agenda. Jeffries said while Republicans were lying for Trump, Democrats would deal with the issues most voters find important. “I’d rather be on President Biden’s side of that contrast than on the extreme MAGA Republican side,” he said.

Trump, after complaining bitterly nearly every day that the trial kept him off the campaign trail, is not leaping back into the fray immediately. He is, however, expected to embark on a fundraising swing this week that will include a stop in Beverly Hills, California, on Friday and a rally Sunday in the battleground state of Nevada. In the press release previewing the rally, Trump’s team did not mention his conviction but instead hit an economic message. “Weak Joe Biden and his woke Democrat friends have declared a war on the middle class. Nevadans are suffering under Bidenomics with inflation in Nevada,” the release said, also highlighting high gasoline prices.

Sen. Tom Cotton, who has drawn buzz as a potential Trump running mate, leaned into the former president’s economic pitch on NBC. “The real verdict is going to come on Election Day, and it’s going to come from the American people,” the Arkansas Republican said Sunday. “It’s going to be based on things like they can’t pay for their rent and put food on the table for their kids; the border is chaos; we’ve got war all around the world.”

The emerging economic argument between the two campaigns shows that Trump’s legal quagmire, despite dominating campaign coverage for months and drawing core Republican voters around the ex-president, may not, in the end, be the issue that decides who will serve as president after January.

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