In the fifth Democratic debate from Atlanta on November 20th 2019, Biden was consulted on this issue by moderator Rachel Maddow. He responded that he would leave the decision up to the Attorney General, and that he would follow their advice on the matter. He was pressed on the issue by Bernie Sanders, however, he maintained his position that the decision of whether or not to prosecute Trump after he leaves office should be made independently by the AG.
Rachel Maddow: Vice president Biden, let me ask you to pick up on the issue that Senator Sanders just raised about no one being above
the law. When President Ford pardoned President Nixon, he said it was
to heal the country. Would you support a potential criminal
investigation into President Trump after he leaves office? Even if you
thought it might further inflame the country’s divisions?
Joe Biden: Look, I would not direct my justice department like this president does. I’d let them make their independent judgment. I
would not dictate who should be prosecuted or who should be
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
attorney private attorney. And so I would whatever was determined by
the attorney general, I supported, that I appointed, let them make an
independent judgment. If that was the judgment that he violated the
law and he should be in fact criminally prosecuted then so be it.
But I would not direct it and I don’t think it’s a good idea that we
model ourselves after Trump and say, “lock him up.” Look, we have to
bring this country together. Let’s start talking civilly to people and
tweeting. The next president starts tweeting should… Anyway, it just,
we look, it’s about civility. We have to restore the soul of this
country and that’s not who we are. That’s not who we’ve been. That’s
not who we should be.
Follow the law. Let the justice department make the judgment as to
whether or not someone should be prosecuted, period.
Rachel Maddow: Senator Sanders, let me ask you briefly to respond to that. The difference of opinion there with vice president Biden.
Bernie Sanders: Well, I think Joe is right. I think that is the function of the attorney general, but what I am of the opinion is that
the American people now do believe, and the more they see these
impeachment hearings on television, they do believe that we have a
president who thinks he’s above the law. We have a president who is
engaged in corruption. We have a president who was obstructed justice,
and in my view, somebody was a violated the emoluments clause. I think
Joe is right. That is the function of an independent department of
justice, but my inclination is that the American people do believe
that this president is in violation of the law.
Biden: Can I respond very quickly?
Maddow: Briefly, senator.
Biden: Distinction, should he be impeached and should it be thrown out of office? That’s one question. He’s very close to impeaching…
He’s indicted himself. Number two, after he’s thrown out of office or
after he’s defeated, should he be then prosecuted? Should he be
prosecuted for a criminal offense while he was president? That’s a
judgment to be made by an attorney general.