Politics

Jen Psaki flips the script after Fox reporter demands that Biden apologize to the Kenosha shooter

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pauses for a moment as she addresses reporters on Thursday, April 15, 2021, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)
White House Press Secretary Jen PsakiPhoto: White House

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki shut down a Fox News reporter who demanded that President Joe Biden apologize to Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse, but she turned the accusation back on him with aplomb.

“Would the President ever apologize to the acquitted Kenosha shooter, Kyle Rittenhouse, for suggesting online and on TV that he is a white supremacist?” Fox journalist Peter Doocy asked at yesterday’s White House Press Briefing. Rittenhouse was acquitted on all charges late last week after he claimed he killed two people and shot another in self-defense.

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Doocy was referring to a campaign video Biden tweeted in September 2020 that made a very tangential reference to Rittenhouse.

The video included audio from a debate between Biden and Donald Trump where Doocy’s colleague, Fox journalist Chris Wallace, asked Trump “to condemn white supremacists and militia groups… as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland.”

Trump refused and instead said that his message for white supremacists is “Stand back and stand by,” which white supremacists groups understood as support for them.

Biden tweeted the video saying, “The President of the United States refused to disavow white supremacists on the debate stage last night.”

“Well, let’s be clear what we’re talking about here,” Psaki told Doocy. “This is about a campaign video released last year that used President Trump’s own words during a debate as he refused to condemn white supremacists and militia groups. And President Trump, as we know from history, and as many of you covered, didn’t just refuse to condemn militia groups on the debate stage, he actively encouraged them throughout his presidency.”

“So, you know, what we’ve seen are the tragic consequences of that when people think it’s okay to take the law into their own hands, instead of allowing law enforcement to do its job,” she said, adding that Biden was condemning “hatred, division, and violence” in the campaign video.

Doocy responded that it wasn’t “just a campaign video” and brought up a CNN interview Biden did on August 26, 2020 – just one day after the shooting last year – where he said: “I don’t know enough to know whether that 17-year-old kid did exactly what he did, but allegedly he’s part of a militia coming out of the state of Illinois.”

Doocy then brought up an interview Rittenhouse did this week with white nationalist Fox News host Tucker Carlson, where he accused the president of “actual malice, defaming my character, for him to” call Rittenhouse “a white supremacist,” which Biden never actually did.

Psaki refused to get stuck in the weeds and reminded Doocy that Rittenhouse has posed in pictures with the violent hate group Proud Boys, a group that proudly proclaims its “pro-white sentiment.”

“The president spoke to the verdict last week,” she told Doocy. “He has obviously condemned the hatred and division and violence we’ve seen around the country by groups like the Proud Boys and groups that that individual has posed in photos with. But beyond that, I’ll leave it to his comments around the verdict.”

On August 25, 2020, anti-racist activists protested in Kenosha after a police officer shot an unarmed Black man, leaving him paralyzed.

Rittenhouse, who lives in Illinois, traveled to Kenosha with his AR-15 rifle and went to the protest. When the protestors saw him with his gun, several of them tried to stop him, and he shot and killed two men and injured a third.

One of his victims who was unarmed, Joseph Rosenbaum, lunged at him to take away his rifle, and Rittenhouse shot him four times and killed him.

Rittenhouse was then chased by other protestors who were shouting that he just shot someone. He tripped and another unarmed man, Anthony Huber, tried to take away Rittenhouse’s rifle, but Rittenhouse shot Huber in the chest, killing him.

Paramedic Gaige Grosskreutz, who was holding a handgun, tried to stop Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse shot Grosskreutz in the arm and he has had to undergo surgery.

Rittenhouse approached police with his hands held up and his rifle strapped on him, but officers just told him to leave. He returned home to Illinois and turned himself in the next day on charges of first-degree intentional homicide.

He claimed at his trial this month that he acted in self-defense, and the jury believed that he “feared for his life at the moment he fired each shot,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Rittenhouse, in essence, was the victor of a state-sanctioned duel — when everyone is armed, whomever squeezes the trigger first gets to claim self-defense,” the Inquirer said in an unsigned editorial.

Psaki referred to Biden’s comments on Rittenhouse’s acquittal, which included comments to reporters last Friday where he said he had not watched the trial: “The jury system works and we have to abide by it.”

“While the verdict in Kenosha will leave many Americans feeling angry and concerned, myself included, we must acknowledge that the jury has spoken,” he said in a later statement. “I urge everyone to express their views peacefully, consistent with the rule of law. Violence and destruction of property have no place in our democracy.”

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