JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris said Wednesday that those responsible for the effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and the ensuing violence at the U.S Capitol must be held accountable — even if that means Donald Trump.
“Let the evidence, the facts, take it where it may,” Harris said in an interview with The Associated Press in Jakarta, Indonesia, where she was attending a regional summit, noting: “Everyone has their right to their day in court.”
Federal prosecutors have indicted Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, for his efforts to cling to power in 2020. The former president also has been charged in Georgia in a scheme to subvert the will of voters who elected Democrat Joe Biden instead of giving Trump a second term.
“I spent the majority of my career as a prosecutor," said Harris, who served as California's attorney general before moving to Washington as a U.S. senator. “I believe that people should be held accountable under the law. And when they break the law, there should be accountability.”
The White House has been circumspect in addressing the issue of criminal charges against Trump, who has pleaded not guilty, to avoid any whiff of political meddling in the work of prosecutors, particularly as Biden seeks a second term in 2024. But both Biden and Harris have been outspoken about what they view as the very real danger to American democracy the aftermath of the 2020 election exposed.
“Democracies are very fragile," the vice president said in the AP interview. “They will only be as strong as our willingness to fight for it.”
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said with her comments, the vice president was affirming her belief “in our system of laws," a belief the president shares.
“This is something that of course the president shares and believes in ... but I'm going to let the Department of Justice do their job independently,” Jean-Pierre said.
Harris is representing the United States at a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in place of Biden.
The president's absence disappointed some, but the White House emphasized that it remained committed to the region, which Harris reiterated in her interview.
“We as Americans, I believe, have a very significant interest, both in terms of our security but also our prosperity, today and in the future, in developing and strengthening these relationships,” she said.
Southeast Asia is a critical arena for the rivalry between the U.S. and China, particularly when it comes to the South China Sea. One-third of global shipping traverses its waters.
Beijing recently released a new government map that emphasizes its disputed territorial claims to the sea.
“It’s a violation of the law. And that’s where I put that map,” Harris told the AP.
ASEAN has struggled to make progress on issues such as the military coup in Myanmar, but Harris said the organization “absolutely” remains a critical forum.
“The fact that so many leaders are convening in this one place at the same time to address some of the biggest challenges facing our world is a sign of strength of both the commitment that each nation has to the coalition and the potential for collaboration,” she said.
Harris sounded a strong warning about reports that Russia was talking with North Korea about obtaining weapons for its invasion of Ukraine, calling the possible alliance “ill-advised."
“Russia has been levied a strategic failure,” she said. ”Their aggressive, unprovoked actions in Ukraine have resulted in a situation where the aura and myth of the Russian military has now been dispelled.”
Harris dismissed concerns about Biden’s age, 80, even though he's widely seen as too old for office. A recent AP/NORC poll showed that 77% of Americans and 69% of Democrats think he’s too old for a second term.
Harris is next in line for the presidency, a position that increased scrutiny of her as she serves with a president who would be 86 at the end of a potential second term. Some Republican presidential hopefuls claim that a vote for Biden would really end up being a vote for Harris — and not in a good way.
“I see him every day. A substantial amount of time we spend together is in the Oval Office, where I see how his ability to understand issues and weave through complex issues in a way that no one else can, to make smart and important decisions on behalf of the American people have played out,” she said. “And so I will say to you that I think the American people ultimately want to know that their president delivers. And Joe Biden delivers.”
Harris described the idea of possibly stepping into the role of president as “hypothetical” but said she was ready.
“Joe Biden is going to be fine, so that is not going to come to fruition," she stated. “But let us also understand that every vice president — every vice president — understands that when they take the oath they must be very clear about the responsibility they may have to take over the job of being president.”
Harris added, “I’m no different.”
Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report from Washington.