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Biden says not speaking to AG Garland as Trump indictment unsealed

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By Nandita Bose and Jeff Mason

ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden said on Friday he had not spoken to Attorney General Merrick Garland and had no plans to do so, as the Justice Department’s indictment of former President Donald Trump was unsealed.

“I have not spoken to him at all and I’m not going to speak with him,” Biden said, when asked by a reporter if he would speak to the attorney general.

Trump faces 37 criminal counts including charges of unauthorized retention of classified documents and conspiracy to obstruct justice after he left the White House in 2021, according to federal court documents made public on Friday.

Republican hopefuls have alleged, without evidence, that the investigation into Trump, who is running to unseat Biden from the White House in 2024, is politically motivated. Biden and top officials have repeatedly said the DOJ is acting independently.

As the charges against Trump were unsealed, Biden was in North Carolina, where he was discussing his economic agenda and had plans to meet with military members.

White House spokesperson Olivia Dalton said earlier that Biden found out about the indictment of his former rival at the same time others did and had not had advance knowledge of it. She declined further comment.

“This is a president who respects the rule of law,” she told reporters on Air Force One. “That’s precisely why we’re not commenting here.”

Garland, who last appeared publicly with Biden at a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, appointed special prosecutor Jack Smith, who is not registered with any political party, to head the investigation last year.

Trump sought to challenge the legitimacy of FBI search warrants last year related to the probe, but a conservative-leaning federal appeals court rejected his arguments.

BIDEN, TRUMP IN SWING STATE

North Carolina is a key political swing state that Republicans are courting this weekend during a state convention. Trump, who declared himself an “innocent man” in relation to the charges, is scheduled to speak there on Saturday evening.

Biden and his wife, Jill, made a stop at Nash Community College in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, to discuss workforce training programs and later will go to the newly renamed Fort Liberty military base to talk about new efforts to help veterans and families of those serving in the military.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Trump, who are competing against each other and a field of others for their party’s 2024 presidential nomination, are expected to speak there on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively.

Biden’s trip underscores his team’s political strategy as he makes an unprecedented run at the age of 80 for reelection. As Trump faces a host of lawsuits and investigations and Republican hopefuls trade barbs, Biden will be keen to be seen visibly, actively governing, especially on non-partisan issues like jobs.

The so-called bully pulpit is a key advantage that incumbent presidents of both parties have long put to effective use. Just 10 presidents running as incumbents have lost reelection bids.

Biden is slated to attend a rally with union members on June 17 in Philadelphia.

North Carolina, with 15 electoral votes, is an important political swing state that Trump won, though only with a slim margin, in 2020. Biden won overall with 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232.

Trump is ahead of his rivals in North Carolina and that lead mirrors his dominance in other states, according to a poll released Thursday by Opinion Diagnostics. He leads the North Carolina Republican field with 44% of the vote, followed by DeSantis at 22%, the poll shows.

During his trip, Biden will announce a series of executive actions to “increase the economic security of military and veteran spouses, caregivers, and survivors,” the White House said. He will do so at Fort Liberty, a U.S. Army base that was recently renamed from Fort Bragg as part of an effort to relabel bases named for Confederate officers.

(Reporting by Nandita Bose and Jeff Mason; additional reporting by Sarah Lynch and Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Heather Timmons, Alistair Bell and Daniel Wallis)

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