Joseph R. Biden said Wednesday his Justice Department wouldn’t automatically pursue charges against President Trump when he leaves office as the Democratic presidential nominee knocked the president for turning DOJ into the “Department of Trump.”
“This has been the most corrupt administration in modern American history,” Mr. Biden said while campaigning in North Carolina. “The Justice Department has turned into the president’s private law firm.”
Mr. Biden referred to DOJ’s recent move to intervene in a defamation case involving a woman who claims Mr. Trump sexually assaulted her in the 1990s.
He said his Justice Department would be “totally independent of me.”
“I’m not going to pursue prosecuting anybody,” he said. “I’m going to do what the Justice Department says should be done and not politicize it.”
“It’s become the Department of Trump, and that’s wrong,” he said.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, Mr. Biden’s running mate, told NPR in July 2019 when she was running for president that she would want her Justice Department to pursue obstruction of justice charges against Mr. Trump if he didn’t get impeached.
“I believe that they would have no choice and that they should, yes,” Ms. Harris said.
Shortly after those remarks, former 2020 candidate Pete Buttigieg said he would expect his DOJ to think for itself and that presidents shouldn’t be calling for their political opponents to be targeted.
The Democratic-led House did ultimately vote to impeach Mr. Trump in December, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over his strong-arming Ukraine into digging up dirt on Mr. Biden.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted to acquit Mr. Trump earlier this year.
Mr. Biden’s comments mark an escalation in the Democrats’ strategy of making Mr. Barr’s tenure at the Justice Department an issue in the 2020 election.
Former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Tuesday criticized Mr. Barr, saying removing him from the Justice Department is a reason to vote against Mr. Trump.
“To weaponize the Justice Department in the way that Barr has is inconsistent with his oath,” Mr. Holder said. “It’s another reason why we have to make sure Donald Trump is defeated in November and we have a new attorney general come January.”
Mr. Holder, a Democrat, served as President Barack Obama’s attorney general from 2009 to 2015 and worked with Mr. Biden, who was vice president.
“The department has to be restored,” Mr. Holder said. “There is an obvious morale problem that has to be dealt with and the department has to be righted.”
• Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.