Since the story of President Joe Biden and his possession of classified documents from the Obama administration broke, the most scrutinized work has been that of White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
Jean-Pierre has consistently referred reporters to the White House counsel’s office or the Justice Department when asking questions, even tangentially related to the matter.
“In connection with an ongoing legal matter, I will refer you to the DOJ,” Jean-Pierre told frustrated reporters. “When it comes to anything you want to ask us about this legal matter, I would refer you to the White House Counsel’s office. I’m going to leave it there. I won’t go into it any further.”
WHITE HOUSE GOES TO WAR FOR BIDEN CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS QUESTIONS
That line has not endeared Jean-Pierre to reporters in the newsroom, disrupting what has often been a cordial atmosphere. Discrepancies between the few details shared in daily briefings and subsequent announcements by Biden’s legal team have raised questions about their credibility.
“I understand there’s a tension between protecting and safeguarding the integrity of an ongoing investigation versus providing publicly appropriate information with that,” Ian Sams, a spokesman for the White House counsel’s office, told reporters on the incomplete information that had been published in the past. .
“The White House press corps has grown increasingly unhappy with the press secretary since he has aerobically tried to force the president’s legal counsel to bear the lion’s share of the documents scandal questions, whether they comment as if not,” said Tim Graham of the conservative Media Research Center. he told the Washington Examiner. “A scandal of this magnitude seems to be beyond his limited capabilities.”
“KJP is over the top,” said Republican strategist John Feehery. “Everyone knows it. She is not a traditional press secretary. She is not there to give information. She’s there to give the media Biden’s talking points.”
Complaints are not limited to conservative circles. “She may be the least effective White House press secretary in the television era,” a White House reporter told CNN, specifically making exceptions for former President Donald Trump’s spokespeople.
It is unclear how the White House views Jean-Pierre’s performance. After the briefings turned ugly, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Oliva Dalton held a group aboard Air Force One. National Security Council Coordinator John Kirby joined a briefing later that week, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm another Monday.
Guests are no strangers to briefings, but they often raise questions related to their policy portfolios. They will be asked less about documents, if any. Information time is also being consumed.
“Some have questioned whether it will last if this crisis deepens,” Graham said. “She’s already enlisting the help of Speaker John Kirby, who is supposed to be more of an expert on national security issues.”
The White House has also held at least two reporters’ calls with Sams from the counsel’s office. These have been more detailed, but are also more controlled events than the freer briefings.
“Democrats probably wish they still had at a time like this [former White House press secretary] Jen Psaki defending the scandal questions,” Graham said. “Instead, Jean-Pierre seems stuck in his notebook reading the same non-answers over and over again.”
Psaki praised Sams’ first call, in which Republicans’ concerns about the Biden documents issue dovetailed with his response to Trump’s, as a “reflection of their recognition that they need to be more aggressive after last week.” and the fact that “the best defense is a strong offense.”
The revelation that former Vice President Mike Pence was also in possession of sensitive government documents could allow the White House to portray it as a more systemic problem and frame Republican criticism as politically opportunistic.
Jean-Pierre’s defenders point out that three powerful white men appear to have mishandled classified documents and that the job of the first black woman to serve as White House press secretary may be in jeopardy. “None of this is his fault,” said one Democratic operative.
Answering questions about matters under federal investigation has always been a challenge for the White House.
“We set up a procedure for reporters to take investigative questions to a separate place,” Mike McCurry, a former White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton, told the Washington Examiner. “The theory was, ‘You have special investigative reporters working on these issues; we will have a special team appointed to work with you on the answers you need’”.
“It was mostly campaign finance issues, Chinese generals in the WH, etc., etc.,” he added. “Less about Monica [Lewinsky]that came later.”
Anything outside the normal reporting process still had to satisfy reporters’ requests for information.
“Lanny Davis and then Jim Kennedy and Chris Lehane worked to review things like the WH visitor records, the ‘hot documents’ as we called them, and met with reporters assigned to those stories,” McCurry said. “So when it came up at a WH press conference, I could say, ‘Go see Mr. Davis’ (or then ‘Kennedy’ or ‘Lehane’), and that would put the inquiry where actual information would be provided.”
Not everyone was satisfied. Graham of the Media Research Center said that during Clinton’s scandals, her press secretaries “seemed to stay out of the loop on purpose.”
“I still had my ‘moments’ when I was asked in briefings,” McCurry said. “But I think it helped bring down the temperature in the briefing room.”
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The temperature was cooler at Tuesday’s briefing, perhaps because of Pence’s reports. The documents did not completely dominate. But Jean-Pierre still faced hostile questions, including one from a reporter who shouted whether he was up to the job.
“It’s only an inch deep when it comes to answering questions, so the folder,” Feehery said. “Until now, the media has been so anti-Republican that they have been willing to give it a pass. The media must respond accordingly.”