President Biden called the family of George Floyd on Monday to express his support and sympathy, telling reporters on Tuesday that the evidence against the former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was “overwhelming” and that he was praying for the “right verdict.”
It is highly unusual for a president to weigh in on behalf of a specific outcome in a judicial proceeding. On Monday, Peter A. Cahill, the Minnesota state judge who is presiding in the case, warned politicians to refrain from commenting on the outcome after Representative Maxine Waters, a Democrat from California, urged demonstrators to mobilize in anticipation of the verdict.
“I can only imagine the pressure and anxiety they are feeling, so I waited till the jury was sequestered,” Mr. Biden said of his conversation with the Floyd family during brief remarks in the Oval Office. “They’re a good family, and they’re calling for peace and tranquillity, no matter what that verdict is. I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict.”
The evidence “is overwhelming in my view,” Mr. Biden said, adding that most of the conversation focused on “personal things.”
The president quickly defended his decision to weigh in on an unresolved trial, saying he thought it was appropriate to do so because all the evidence had been presented and the jury would not hear his remarks.
“I wouldn’t say that unless the jury was sequestered now,” he added, following a meeting with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Later, Mr. Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, brushed aside suggestions that the president’s comments undermined an independent judiciary, but she did not clarify what he meant by calling for “the right” verdict.
“I don’t think he would see it as weighing in on the verdict,” she told reporters during her daily briefing. “He was conveying what many people are feeling across the country, which is compassion for the family.”
Ms. Psaki said Mr. Biden, who flew to Houston to console Mr. Floyd’s family before his funeral last June, had been speaking from his “heart” and would have further comment on the trial once the verdict had been rendered.
Mr. Floyd’s family discussed the president’s call during a television appearance earlier in the day.
“He was just calling,” Philonise Floyd, Mr. Floyd’s brother, told NBC’s “Today” show early Tuesday, a day after the Chauvin jury had retired to consider the verdict.
“He knows how it is to lose a family member, and he knows the process of what we’re going through,” he continued. “So he was just letting us know that he was praying for us, hoping that everything will come out to be OK.”
Shortly after video circulated last May showing Mr. Chauvin kneeling on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, Mr. Biden expressed sympathy with the family and called Mr. Floyd’s death an example of an “ingrained systemic cycle of injustice” that plagued the country.
“George Floyd’s life matters,” Mr. Biden said during a livestream with supporters at the time. “It mattered as much as mine. It matters as much as anyone’s in this country. At least it should have.”
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