Twelve years ago, when the last Democratic president took office, he did not seek broad inquiries into officials from the previous administration for their use of torture practices, or for domestic eavesdropping. Nor did he pursue prosecutions of Wall Street executives for crimes that led to the 2008 financial crisis.
Aside from some grumbling, Barack Obama’s party went along in the name of national unity.
This time, Democrats who have chafed at President Trump’s behavior for four years are not willing to be so accommodating: They want to hold him, his family and his enablers accountable for acts they believe didn’t just break norms, but broke the law.
Whether or not the House pursues impeachment charges against Mr. Trump for his role in inciting his supporters to storm the Capitol on Wednesday, many Democrats say that impeachment is not enough.
Once President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes office on Jan. 20, wide segments of his party are eager to see investigations and prosecutions of an array of Trump aides and allies — an effort, they say, that would bolster the rule of law after a presidency that weakened it and serve as a warning to future presidents that there will be consequences for illegal actions taken while in office.
The rioting at the Capitol has only intensified that desire. More than a dozen Democrats interviewed in recent days said the president’s role in inspiring the mob violence had prompted them to change their positions: They now want the Biden Justice Department to investigate the president and his aides
“I was not on the investigate-and-prosecute train before yesterday,” Kathleen Sullivan, a former chairwoman of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said on Thursday. “However, undermining the very foundations of democracy and the Constitution is a crime that can’t be ignored.”
So far, Mr. Biden has not taken a position on impeachment, let alone the broader agenda of launching criminal investigations. He has said he would leave any decisions about it to his Justice Department, which he has promised will return to the pre-Trump norm of maintaining independence from the White House. His choice of Merrick B. Garland, a centrist judge, as his nominee for Attorney General is another indication of his more measured approach to pursuing investigations and indictments.
His stance reflects not only his politics but a natural inclination not to settle scores — much like Mr. Obama, whom Mr. Biden served for eight years as vice-president. Mr. Obama said shortly before his own inauguration that he believed the nation needed “to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”