U.S. President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he is “praying the verdict is the right verdict” in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and that he believed the case, which has gone to the jury and put the nation on edge, to be “overwhelming.”
Biden, ahead of a meeting with lawmakers in the Oval Office, told reporters that he was only weighing in on the trial into the death of George Floyd, who died with Chauvin’s knee on his neck, because the jury in the case had been sequestered.
He confirmed that he called Floyd’s family on Monday to offer prayers and said he “can only imagine the pressure and anxiety they’re feeling.”
“They’re a good family and they’re calling for peace and tranquility no matter what that verdict is,” Biden said. “I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict. I think it’s overwhelming, in my view. I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered now.”
The U.S. president has repeatedly denounced Floyd’s death but had previously stopped short of weighing in on the trial itself, with White House officials earlier saying it would be improper for a president to speak out during active judicial proceedings.
His comments came as his administration has been privately weighing how to handle the upcoming verdict, including considering whether Biden should address the nation and dispatching specially trained community facilitators from the Justice Department, aides and officials told The Associated Press.
WATCH | Jury starts deliberating in Derek Chauvin’s murder trail:
Biden’s comments come a day after Judge Peter Cahill, who is presiding over the trial, admonished elected officials for speaking out about the case.
“I wish elected officials would stop talking about this case, especially in a manner that’s disrespectful to the rule of law and to the judicial branch and our function,” he said shortly after sending the jury to begin deliberations.
Officials’ remarks could be grounds for appeal
Biden’s comments come with some risk. Defence attorneys often cite remarks made by public officials as a reason to appeal a verdict, in part because it could influence the jury against the defendant.
Cahill delivered his rebuke after rejecting a defence request for a mistrial based in part on comments from California Rep. Maxine Waters, who said “we’ve got to get more confrontational” if Chauvin isn’t convicted of murder.
Speaking of politicians in general, he said, “I think if they want to give their opinions, they should do so in a respectful and in a manner that is consistent with their oath to the Constitution to respect a coequal branch of government. Their failure to do so, I think, is abhorrent.”
He conceded to Chauvin’s attorneys that Waters’s comments could potentially be grounds for an appeal.
On Monday, Cahill ordered that the jury be sequestered in an undisclosed hotel during their deliberations and instructed jurors to avoid all news about the case, which in theory should keep them from being made aware of Biden’s remarks.
The jury resumed deliberations Tuesday morning after spending a few hours Monday discussing the case behind closed doors. In closing arguments earlier in the day, a prosecutor told jurors that Chauvin “had to know” he was squeezing the life out of George Floyd as he cried over and over that he couldn’t breathe and finally fell silent. Chauvin faces murder and manslaughter charges.
Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, told NBC’s Today show that Biden “knows how it is to lose a family member … so he was just letting us know that he was praying for us and hoping that everything would come out to be OK.”
WATCH | Attorney representing Floyd’s family and Wright’s families reacts to trial:
Psaki on Tuesday said Biden was “not looking to influence” the outcome and would weigh in further once the jury reached a verdict. Biden has yet to deliver expansive remarks as president on race and policing.
Pressed to expand on the president’s remarks, Psaki added, “I’m not going to provide additional analysis on what he meant.”
The White House, meanwhile, was stepping up preparations for the upcoming verdict. Psaki said administration officials have been in contact with leaders in Minnesota and in other cities and states that saw unrest after Floyd’s death last year.