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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Columns

Estrich: The verdicts: Trump vs. Biden

By Susan Estrich
Published: June 17, 2024, 6:01am

The contrasts could not be starker.

Two juries did their jobs: carefully considering overwhelming evidence of guilt and reaching the only verdicts supported by substantial evidence. Against a highly politicized background, and in the face of intense media scrutiny, the criminal justice system worked.

Everything else – from the reactions to the behavior of the families to the nature of the crimes themselves – was different.

President Joe Biden made clear even before a verdict was returned that he would accept the verdict of the jury and would not use his pardon power for personal reasons, that he would provide the emotional support of a loving father but not the political power of a presidential pardon for his son. Donald Trump, by contrast, was sanctioned for his attacks on everyone – from the judge and his family to the prosecutors and the court staff and even the jury – before he was found guilty on 34 felony counts. Once the verdict came down, there was no stopping him, although he claimed he couldn’t say more because of the gag order.

Biden, by contrast, in the face of a verdict convicting his only living son for wrongs he committed while suffering from the depths of addiction, issued a statement expressing both his love and loyalty to his son and his respect for the rule of law:

“As I said last week, I am the president, but I am also a dad. Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today. So many families who have had loved ones battle addiction understand the feeling of pride seeing someone you love come out the other side and be so strong and resilient in recovery. As I also said last week, I will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal. Jill and I will always be there for Hunter and the rest of our family with our love and support. Nothing will ever change that.”

As Rep. Jamie Raskin, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee pointed out, I have “not heard a single Democrat anywhere in the country cry ‘fraud,’ cry ‘fixed,’ cry ‘rigged,’ cry ‘kangaroo court”’ in response to Hunter Biden’s federal conviction, as Republicans did after Trump’s conviction, along with spreading the conspiracy theory that Biden was somehow responsible for the conviction. “Compare and contrast the difference in reaction between the Republicans and the Democrats,” Raskin said. “The Republicans are attacking our entire system of justice and the rule of law because they don’t like the way that one case came out, whereas the son of the president of the United States is prosecuted and I don’t hear a single Democrat crying foul.”

The two families were likewise a study in contrasts. The testimony in both cases was obviously painful to listen to. But the Biden family surrounded Hunter throughout the trial. His mother missed only one day – when she accompanied the president to Normandy. His wife was there every day. His sister, his aunts, his uncle and his daughter joined hands in the gallery. The Trump family provided no such support. Eric Trump was the only one to show up regularly. Ivanka and Melania never did. Donald Jr. and Tiffany showed up only briefly for part of the closing arguments.

It is of course dangerous for addicts to possess weapons, which is the reason it is a crime to lie about it on the forms. But Hunter Biden only possessed the gun for 11 days and never used it. The reason Donald Trump’s crimes were felonies and not misdemeanors was because of the purpose they served, as serious as any could be. The prosecution had to prove, and did very persuasively, that he lied to literally rig the election in his favor. As Margaret Carlson has pointed out in the Washington Monthly, it was the smartest $130,000 Donald Trump has ever spent because, in the wake of the “Access Hollywood” revelations (which nearly led Mike Pence to drop off the ticket), he spent it to buy the election. For that, the former president – unlike Hunter Biden, whose crimes were victimless – deserves serious punishment.