As we’ve documented over the last week (see here, here, here, and here), Wednesday’s White House press briefing marked yet another tough day at the office for the empty and inept Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre as she kept up her stonewalling on President Biden’s classified documents scandal, while reporters from the likes of the ABC, the Associated Press, CBS, the Fox News Channel, Gray Television, NBC, and even an independent journalist from Angola fired off hardballs.
The AP’s Josh Boak led off the unsuccessful questioning by wondering if Jean-Pierre could give a justification “against visitor logs for” Biden’s Wilmington, Delaware home “given the frequency with which [he] works” there, but Jean-Pierre only told him to review statements from the White House counsel and Secret Service.
Formerly with Fox News Radio, Gray Television’s Jon Decker brought the hardball a little later, invoking Biden’s September 60 Minutes interview where he denounced Trump hoarding classified documents as “irresponsible”: “[D]o you think it was proper for President Biden to comment on an ongoing DOJ investigation?”
Jean-Pierre insisted she wouldn’t comment, so Decker called her out: “I’m simply asking you to comment on the person that you work for and his comments.”
All the while, Jean-Pierre shouted over him by claiming she “just commented.” When Decker argued what she said was “not really a comment,” Jean-Pierre snapped and tried to move on even though Decker had another question. Jean-Pierre said she “already answered your question,” which led Decker to hit back: “You really didn’t...You gave a non-answer answer.” Jean-Pierre fired back: “It’s your opinion.”
The reporter sitting next to Decker had a new question about the documents regarding any possible concerns U.S. allies might have about Biden’s trustworthiness with secrets, but Jean-Pierre wanted nothing to do with it other than to say Biden “takes classified information seriously.”
Independent African journalist Hariana Veras even had a question Jean-Pierre avoided: “Is he worried about those documents that were found? Or is he — did he somehow regret to what he had done with those documents being found at his property?”
ABC’s MaryAlice Parks unsuccessfully tried to zoom out while somewhat defending Biden:
[H]e said multiple times...he was unaware that these classified documents were even in his garage, in his residence? Given that — given that you could actually just be surprised that documents were there, does that suggest...to this White House that reform is needed...for how classified documents are tracked through the U.S. government?
Parks’s ABC colleague Karen Travers reupped an important process question Jean-Pierre stonewalled with a mouthfull of nothingness, which was whether the White House would commit to having White House Counsel Richard Sauber come to the Briefing Room.
Seems simple, but Jean-Pierre would only tout a private background briefing with political tool Ian Sams.
Coming off her tense battle on Tuesday with Jean-Pierre, CBS’s Weijia Jiang returned with important questions about whether this incident will cause the White House to “review” how “staffers handle classified information.”
When Jean-Pierre said she’d punt to the White House counsel’s office, Jiang hit back (click “expand”):
JIANG: But why not? I mean, I’m having a hard time understanding why —
JEAN-PIERRE: I just said —
JIANG: — questions about —
JEAN-PIERRE: Weijia —
JIANG: — procedure would impact the investigation.
JEAN-PIERRE: And I just said — and I just said to you: The White House Counsel’s Office will be able to address that question.
JIANG: Okay. Is President Biden satisfied with the current SOP of handling classified materials here and turning them over to National Archives?
JEAN-PIERRE: Again, I will refer you to the White House Counsel’s Office. They are the — they’re the people who would be able to answer that question about classified information.
JIANG: So, just to be clear: From this point on, are you not going to be taking questions about the classified documents?
JEAN-PIERRE: I have been very clear over and over again we are going to be prudent here. We’re going to be consistent. This particular matter is being — is being looked at. There’s a legal process currently happening at the Department of Justice, and I’m going to refer you to the Department of Justice on any specifics to this particular case and anything that has to deal with our — what we’re doing here, I would refer you to the White House Counsel’s Office and let me remind you this is — this is — this is not a new process here. We’ve been doing this for the past two years. Anything that is related to a legal process, a legal matter, we refer it to the Department of Justice. There’s nothing new in our process here.
After not being called on Tuesday, Fox’s Jacqui Heinrich had a turn and focused on more public press access seeing as how “we’re in sort of an information blackout.” When Jean-Pierre said “no” to whether she’d have someone speak at a briefing, Heinrich tried once more before returning to the previous concern raised about any national security concerns.
NBC’s Peter Alexander closed the Biden documents questioning with a bang. He started by citing NBC’s reporting that the Justice Department hasn’t even told the White House to clamp down talk about the documents probe. In turn, he asked: “[T]rusting you’ve received that same information, understanding the desire to be prudent, then why — why can’t you speak about the underlying facts?”
Jean-Pierre didn’t change her answer of wanting to be “consistent” in not “comment[ing] from here.”
Like NPR’s Tamara Keith on Tuesday, Alexander tried to ask whether Jean-Pierre would “concede that...the White House...has been incomplete in its provision of information when it did choose to speak out publicly on January 9” about what they knew and when on the unearthing of classified documents.
The real blowout came over Heinrich’s press access concerns as Alexander inquired as to whether the White House would bring in someone to speak about this issue in the same way that John Kirby does for national security affairs.
Jean-Pierre wouldn’t even say yes or no, but when pressed, she touted Sams’s call as proof of transparency. To his credit, Alexander noted that was not on the record until the call ended and thus Americans kept completely in the dark (click “expand”):
ALEXANDER: Well, but you’re the communications —
JEAN-PIERRE: I — I would —
ALEXANDER: — you run the communications —
JEAN-PIERRE: — I — I —
ALEXANDER: — so I’m asking, are you, as a communications matter, having —
JEAN-PIERRE: We —
ALEXANDER: — playing any part?
JEAN-PIERRE: There is — you —
ALEXANDER: Are those conversations existing?
JEAN-PIERRE: Peter, you have spoken to my colleague who did —
JEAN-PIERRE: — again, a 45-minute call with all of you, answering questions about —
ALEXANDER: But on ba- — as you would acknowledge, it’s on background though, Karine, not on the record until the call ends. That means the American people can’t see it in public, so we’re asking —
JEAN-PIERRE: But many —
ALEXANDER: — will there be a representative who would speak on camera and see it in public?
JEAN-PIERRE: But — but his — the call was indeed — he was quoted. It was in papers. It was on networks.
ALEXANDER: Correct, but because they can’t witness it happening live, Americans don’t get the same transparency into this back-and-forth. I’m asking —
JEAN-PIERRE: I think —
ALEXANDER: — would someone —
JEAN-PIERRE: — I think —
ALEXANDER: — is the White House having a conversation —
JEAN-PIERRE: — Peter —
ALEXANDER: — with regard —
JEAN-PIERRE: — Peter —
ALEXANDER: — this is just — with respect, you guys brought John Kirby in. I’m asking if that conversation exists.
JEAN-PIERRE: — Peter, the fact that he spoke to all of you reporters who report on this, and then you all reported on it back to the American people, I believe that is transparency. I believe that he shared information. He answered your questions that you believe that the American people wanted to hear and he answered those questions.
ALEXANDER: I understand that, so my question is, are you —
JEAN-PIERRE: And he took — he took 45 minutes to do that.
ALEXANDER: — for which we’re grateful.
JEAN-PIERRE: Anything — anything else that you have on this, Peter, I would refer you to the White House Counsel’s Office.
To see the relevant transcript from January 19’s briefing, click here.