Tuesday’s White House press briefing was largely clear-eyed about the horrors caused Friday by Hamas terrorists in Israel with over a dozen Americans dead and nearly two dozen unaccounted for. There were some tough questions from usual corners, but also some predictably pro-Hamas questions standing up for the plight of modern-day Nazis.
And, amid that chaos, two reporters in the front row had the wherewithal to ask about news from late Monday that President Biden spent the previous two days being interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Hur into his handling of classified documents.
The worst question was actually the last one of the briefing as Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre heard this question from Anita Powell of taxpayer-funded Voice of America:
Can you guarantee that members of the Muslim diaspora or immigrant communities can still feel safe, can still exercise their civil liberties, and exercise their criticism of — of Israel’s behavior? Was — was that part of the conversations and can you ensure those communities that they have all those rights?
That, readers, is your tax dollars at work in ensuring those supporting mass murder, rape, beheadings, and mutilation have rights.
Jean-Pierre correctly played confused, saying Biden is “always going to denounce any form, any type of violence” and work “to keep communities safe.”
Alarabiya’s Nadia Bilbassy-Charters was the other to go full send in the Palestinian column:
[H]ow can you make sure that Israel goes after Hamas and its infrastructure in Gaza, not two million Palestinians who are trapped with no water, with no electricity, with no medical supply? The U.N. schools are overflowing now. The number of dead is reaching 850 so far, including six members of one family of the former ambassador to Washington. How can you make sure this is not revenge, but actually going after Hamas, who committed this horrible crime?
Sullivan struck back, noting “the difference between the United States and Israel” versus Hamas “is that we do not deliberately target civilians.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Fox’s Jacqui Heinrich pressed National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on how Hamas ally Iran had recently been greenlit to receive $6 billion in frozen funds: “You just laid out all of the ways that Iran is complicit in this and facilitated it over years of support for Hamas. Is that reason enough to freeze — refreeze the $6 billion that the U.S. helped unlock for them to get in exchange for the prisoners?”
Sullivan was not having it: “We have not yet had a dollar of that $6 billion spent and I will leave it at that.”
Heinrich continued to press (even though she didn’t bring up the fact that Iran’s president said on NBC Nightly News Iran would spend the billions for whatever they saw fit), but when she asked a third time, Sullivan moved onto NBC’s Peter Alexander and his question of concern about “how much retaliation in Gaza” would the U.S. allow (click “expand”):
HEINRICH: But will you refreeze it based on this activity that you just laid out, all of the ways that they are complicit in this? You — the administration said that if we see them going in the wrong direction, we would stop that down. I understand the position that you guys have, that not a dollar of this has been spent. But will you prevent it from getting in their hands to allow them to, you know, do — do what they do that you just laid out?"
SULLIVAN: Let me reiterate what I said b/c it’s unequivocal. Not a dollar of that money has been spent and I will leave it at that.
HEINRICH: Is it being considered?
SULLIVAN [TO ALEXANDER]: Yes.
ALEXANDER: Jake, if I can ask you, will the U.S. support Israel’s military attacks in Gaza for as long as it takes until the hostages are freed or until Hamas is destroyed? I guess, in simple terms, how much retaliation in Gaza is the U.S. willing to accept?
SULLIVAN: I don’t think of this in terms of retaliation. This is about providing support to Israel as it seeks to defend its territory and deal with an ongoing, imminent threat from Hamas terrorists who, as I said before, are acting a heck of a lot like ISIS terrorists in their barbarity and cruelty. That requires going after Hamas terrorists targets in Gaza because even as we speak, even as I stand here, there could be rockets flying out of Gaza. Going after the sites — that’s not retaliation. That’s Israel stepping up to defend itself and ensure the safety and security of the Israeli people. And we’re going to support them for as long as they need to ensure that Israel is safe and secure and I can’t put a timetable on that.
ABC’s Karen Travers tried to be political, wondering if Biden discussing democracies with Netanyahu was his way of giving him “a warning” to not overstretch his powers in this war.
Sullivan was indignant, firing back that he could not “accept the characterization of your question.”
Speaking of borders, Fox News reporter Ryan Schmelz made sure that America’s porous southern border was invoked:
[O]ver 150 people who are on the terrorist watch list have been seized along the southern border this fiscal year and we’re reported that there’s been 1.5 million known gotaways since the Biden administration took office. Is this something that the American people should be worried about right now?
Sullivan insisted that the Biden administration’s “vigilant about terrorist threats to the homeland from anywhere” and “something that we are very much working on, that we are consulting with the Congress on, that we are seeking to secure the necessary resources to continue to work through” even if Congress “was not forthcoming” with Biden’s immigration demands in the most recent continuing resolution.
And, on Special Counsel Hur, the AP’s Josh Boak and CBS’s Ed O’Keefe carried the flag on that one with the latter wondering about the timing of Monday’s early White House lid and if the interview kept Biden from being totally focused on the terror in Israel (click “expand”):
BOAK: On the special counsel interviews, did the President answer all of the questions that were asked during the interviews and was the executive privilege invoked at any time? I know, there’s limits on what you can say, but any transparency will be helpful on this.
JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, my colleagues at the White House — my colleague at the White House Counsel put out a statement yesterday providing an update of — of where we are with this particular — with this particular interview with the special counsel. Obviously, I’m not going to go beyond what my colleague has shared. If you have any further questions, I would certainly refer you to the Department of Justice or the White House counsel to ask any detailed information.
O’KEEFE: For the record though, we understand the President’s interview with Special Counsel Robert Hur was scheduled long before the conflict began. That’s what we’re being told by people here at the White House and elsewhere. Did the President and his legal team ever ask for the interview to be rescheduled given what transpired in Israel over the weekend.?
JEAN-PIERRE: So, again, Ed, I’m not going to go beyond the statement from the White House counsel. And you all know and have seen for yourself the President spoke the second — this is the second time he’s spoken about Israel in the last couple of days....He’s shown his leadership over the horrific events over the weekend in Israel. And, look, we disclosed — we disclosed an interview. We put that out in a statement...He spoke to many of our allies...[H]e met with our national security team over a dozen times and he spoke with...Prime Minister Netanyahu...So, he’s been very much focused...[T]he President is able to do multiple things at once, right? As president, he has to do multiple things at once and that’s what you saw him do this weekend.
O’KEEFE: Did the President’s need to be interviewed by the special counsel yesterday impede or keep him from giving the remarks he gave today yesterday? Because you know — the press officer knows — there was a lot of inquiry and concern and criticism that perhaps he was not as publicly engaged yesterday as he could possibly have been. There was a federal holiday. There was some respect or decision made to not hold public events on the federal holiday. But, clearly, he was doing a big thing by meeting with the special counsel. So, is there any reason to believe that impeded his ability to respond publicly to what was going on in the Middle East?
JEAN-PIERRE: Well, as I just said, Ed, presidents have to do multiple things at once. He spoke on Saturday — right — when we learned...what was happening in Israel. He spoke today, obviously. There were multiple statements from this President....Look, the President was — was very much engaged in showing his — his leadership...Again, the President has to handle many things at once and we saw him do that over the past couple days since — certainly since Saturday.
To see the relevant transcript from the October 10 briefing (including a question about the Iran prisoner swap from the Washington Examiner and a surprisingly firm denunciation from Jean-Pierre of pro-Hamas Democrats in response to a question from Philip Wegmann of Real Clear Politics), click here.