James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:40 P.M. EST
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everyone.
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I have a couple things at the top, and then I’ll hand it over to our guest today.
Today, the Vice President and the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention are hosting community violence intervention leaders from across the country to recognize their efforts in reducing and preventing violence — (a reporter sneezes) — and ultimately saving lives. God bless you.
The event is a culmination of a week of activities host [hosted] by the Office of Gun Violence Prevention for Community Violence Awareness Week.
Community violence intervention programs are a key piece of the President’s Safer America Plan and have been shown to reduce violence by as much as 50 percent. That’s why the Biden-Harris administration continues to make major investments in community violence intervention, and other proven solutions to end the epidemic of gun violence.
The President’s American Rescue Plan provided over $15 billion to prevent crime and promote public safety, while the Bipartisan Safer Community Act provides $250 million in funding for community-based violence prevention initiatives.
These actions are reducing crime and saving lives nationwide, with homicides and gun violence rates on the decline in 2023.
We will continue to work to protect American communities from this senseless violence while calling on Congress to do its job and take further action to implement commonsense gun safety measures.
And finally, I also want to share a brief readout from a recent visit by — by senior U.S. officials to Guyana, Colombia, and also Mexico.
Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Fi- — Finer traveled to Guyana and Colombia February 4th and 5th, which followed a series of other high-level U.S. visits.
In Guyana, he met with President Ali and Caribbean Community — CARICOM — Secretary-General Dr. Carla Barnett to reaffirm U.S. support to Guyana’s sovereignty, to advance economic and security cooperation, and to discuss CARICOM’s priorities for their February 25th meeting. Haiti and Venezuela figured prominently in these discussions, as did Guyana’s priorities on the United Nations Security Council.
In Colombia, we issued a joint statement following Mr. Finer’s meeting with President Gustavo Petro that — that covered financing for sustainable infrastructure under President Biden’s Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity initiative, as well as ongoing cooperation on security and migration. The statement reaffirmed support for competitive and inclusive elections in Venezuela and implementation of the Barbados Agreement between representatives of Nicolás Maduro and the Uni- — Unitaria Platform.
Mr. Finer expressed appreciation for Colombia’s continued effort to promote dialogue but also underscored the need for the international community to support an electoral process free of harassment and intimidation, where all candidates are eligible to run for office.
Turning to Mexico for a second. White House Homeland Security Advisor Dr. Sherwood-Randol- — -Randall led an interagency delegation to Mexico February 6th and the — and 7th. She engaged in a wide-rang- — -ranging discussion with President — President AMLO. And then, separately, our delegation met with Mes- — Mexico’s security cabinet — both focused on bilateral and regional issues, including sustained cooperation on migration and joint efforts to promote economic opportunity and development in the Americas.
During the fourth meeting of the Trilateral Fentanyl Committee — established by President Biden, President AMLO, and the Prime Minis- — Prime Minister Trudeau — the United States, Mexico, and Canada agreed to a 10 joint actions to counter the trafficking of illicit synthetic drugs, including fentanyl, and firearms in North America. These are contin- — these are outlined in our joint statement that was issued yesterday.
On February 7th, Treasury des- — designated one of the — one of Ecuador’s most violent gangs and its leader for fueling the recent surge of violence in Ecuador. The sanctions are just one part of the significant assistance we are providing to our Ecuadorian partners as they confront transnational organized crime and illicit narcotics.
Finally, allow me to once again pay respect for the people of Chile as they mourn the loss of former President Sebastián Piñera. Our prayers also go out to the — to all in Chile who lost loved ones to the wildfires and forced thousands to leave their homes.
The United States is supporting firefighters by deploying technical staff, by providing satellite imagery, and offering funds to the purchasing fi- — to purchasing firefighting equipment. And we stand ready to do more.
With that, thank you for your patience. I will turn things over to my colleague, Ian Sams, from the White House Counsel’s Office.
MR. SAMS: Thank you, Karine. Good to see everybody.
Q Thank you for coming.
MR. SAMS: Sure. Thanks.
I want to start by talking about a few things that I think are important for you all to hear and for the American people to hear.
The President spoke powerfully about this last night. After a long investigation that turned over every stone and explored every theory, the special counsel decided that there was no case there.
Notably, he said this would be true whether President Biden was president or a private citizen.
The special counsel’s assignment when he was appointed was to determine whether any criminal conduct occurred. He found it didn’t. That was the finding.
The case is closed.
I want to read you something from none other than Ken Starr — who most people in this room will remember is the independent counsel who investigated former President Clinton. After that investigation, here is what he said to Congress: Quote, “What I see the conclusion as being is just a determination that no criminal charges would be brought. Period. Full stop. That is it. It is all over at that stage,” end quote.
That rings true here.
The Special Counsel report goes on at length about the President’s unprecedented cooperation in this case. I want to share a few things about that because I think it’s very important.
One, when the classified documents were found, it was self-reported. The President directed his team to ensure that any classified documents were returned immediately.
Why did he do that? Because the President takes classified information seriously. He always has. He did not intentionally take classified documents. He understands documents like that belong with the government. He never, never made any attempt to obstruct.
Two, he took unprecedented action to get the special counsel what he needed.
He opened up every room in his family home and his beach house for comprehensive FBI searches — a first time in history. He sat for two days of interviews — an interview that, I’ll add — and the President talked about this last night — took place the day after the brutal attack on Israel. The President was managing an intensive international crisis. You just heard the Vice President talk about this.
He answered dozens of follow-up questions to the special counsel in writing.
Three, he didn’t exert executive privilege over any contents of the report. He was transparent. He had nothing to hide. There was a long, intensive, and, in many ways, yes, excessive investigation.
But for context, you should all remind — remember, in the case of former Vice President Mike Pence — who had a very, very similar incident occur right after President Biden — the case was closed within a few months. It was a brief, one-page letter to Mike Pence.
But in this case, there was a 15-month investigation. The Special Counsel interviewed 150 witnesses. He sought and obtained 7 million pages of documents, down to emails about moving trucks during the transition in 2016 and 2017. He spent more than three and a half million taxpayer dollars exploring every possible theory that he could.
And what was the result? He reached the inevitable conclusion based on the facts and the evidence that there was no case here.
And this is important to think about in context of how this report is being viewed and, by many of you, being covered. This is the first special counsel investigation ever that hasn’t indicted anyone. Every theory was explored. But the facts and the evidence disputed them. The decision was that there was no case to be made.
In that reality, we also need to talk about the environment that we are in. For the past few years, Republicans in Congress and elsewhere have been attacking prosecutors who aren’t doing what Republicans want politically. They have made up claims of a two-tiered system of justice between Republicans and Democrats. They have denigrated the rule of law for political purposes.
That reality creates a ton of pressure. And in that pressurized political environment, when the inevitable conclusion is that the facts and the evidence don’t support any charges, you’re left to wonder why this report spends time making gratuitous and inappropriate criticisms of the President.
Over the past 24 hours, we’ve actually seen legal experts and former prosecutors come out and give their analysis. Former Attorney General Eric Holder said the report, quote, “contains way too many gratuitous remarks and is flatly inconsistent with longstanding DOJ traditions.”
The former Acting FBI Director said he had overseen many cases like this, and, quote, “You have — you have to have explicit evidence of willful retention of those documents, and that is just not present in this case.”
The former FBI General Counsel, who I’ll add is als- — was also lead prosecutor in the Special Counsel Mueller investigation, said, it was, quote, “exactly what you’re not supposed to do, which is putting your thumb on the scale that could have political repercussions.”
That’s the assessment of seasoned professional law enforcement officials and prosecutors with deep experience at the Department of Justice.
Unfortunately, the gratuitous remarks that the former Attorney General talked about have naturally caught headlines and all of your attention. They’re wrong, and they’re inaccurate. And they obscure a very simple truth that I want to repeat one last time, since I know it’s is hard to wade through 400 full pages.
One, the report lays out example after example of how the President did not willfully take classified documents. The report lays out how the President did not share classified documents with anyone. The report lays out how the President did not knowingly share classified information with anyone.
On page 2, which I know you all read, the report argues the President willfully retained materials. But buried way later, on page 215, the report says, and I quote, “there is in fact a shortage of evidence on these points.” Two hundred pages later.
Put simply, this case is closed because the facts and the evidence don’t support the theories here. The gratuitous comments that respected experts saying is out of line are inappropriate. And they shouldn’t distract from the fact that the case is closed, and the facts and evidence show that they reached the right conclusion.
With that, I’m happy to take questions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Aamer.
Q Just a couple of housekeeping. When and whom was the President briefed about on the contents of the report?
MR. SAMS: The President was briefed by his lawyers.
Q And, second, the President — and as you mentioned, again, you thought some of the characterizations were gratuitous. Does the President still have confidence in Merrick Garland after selecting Hur to be put in this position?
MR. SAMS: The President spoke this last night. I think — I can’t remember which of you asked him what his thoughts were on the appointment of the special counsel. And he answered that, I think, thoughtfully and powerfully. And I don’t really have anything to add beyond what the President said.
Q And just finally, does the President support the release of the entire transcript of his interview to put to rest some of these things that you think are being overlooked?
MR. SAMS: And it’s a reasonable question. I think that it’s important to know that we’re dealing with classified materials in this conversation. There are classification issues there. I don’t have any announcement on, you know, releasing anything today.
But it’s a reasonable question, and there were classified stuff, and we’ll have to work through all that.
Q So, but once you can work through, like, say, a redacted version, would the President support the release, as long as you can obviously keep what needs to be kept secret secret?
MR. SAMS: Well, we’ll take a look at that and — and make a determination.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Justin.
Q Thanks, Ian. Two questions. First, you said in the topper that the President takes classified information seriously, and the President said last night that he never discussed classified material with anyone. But the special counsel’s report said that on three different occasions, he did discuss it with his ghostwriter.
I understand it didn’t meet the bar for prosecution. But how do you reconcile the President’s statement with what’s in the report?
MR. SAMS: Sure. Well, if you read the full report, it actually gets into each of those three instances. I think Justin rightly points out that we’re talking about three instances out of two hundred and, you know, fifty pages of evidence that they’re talking about criticizing. I think it’s important to look at those three examples.
Two of them are his own notes to himself in his personal diary that he was reading about to his ghostwriter for his memoir — for a memoir about his life after his son Beau died. And he was reading these passages that he had written to himself to share information with him, and he took pains — and the report lays this out — to express how sensitive some of the information was and that we should be careful with it. And of those two passages from his diaries that he talked about with his ghostwriter — weren’t in the book. There’s no classified information in the book. And so — and so, I want to just make that point.
And the second is there’s a — kind of an allegation of, you know, willfully taking a classified document that he talked about with his ghostwriter. That’s false. As the President talked about last night, he was, again, talking about a handwritten letter that he had sent to President Obama and faxed to him about the Afghanistan troop surge.
These are — these are the President’s own personal writings — you know, the President’s own diary notes to himself.
And I think there’s an important thing to think about here. There’s plenty of history- — historical analogues, the most notable of which is Ronald Reagan — President Reagan — whose diaries very famously became a subject of a lot of attention in the country. The Justice Department knew that President Reagan’s diaries had classified information in them — knew it at the time.
He took those diaries home. He read those diaries to people. He shared the actual physical copy of the — of the — of the diaries — which this special counsel report talks about Joe Biden never even gave custody of his notebooks to anybody. And — and they never even asked for those diaries back, and they never launched an investigation.
And why is that? It’s because historically, going back to the beginning of the country, presidents keep diaries. They — we should want our presidents to be thoughtful and deliberative about the decisions that they make on the most consequential issues of our time. And we have — we have entrusted presidents to be safekeepers of this information and to —
And we have expressed, you know, great gratitude, including many of you in the press, when — when presidents share, through books and other things, insights into their thinking and decision-making and historical context.
And so, I think it’s lost in the shuffle of all this that the President did what all of his predecessors had done, which was take notes for himself, keep a diary of his own daily life so that he could think back on these big moments of — of the time. And so, you know, those are — that’s important to know about this allegation —
Q Is the —
MR. SAMS: — that there was —
Q Is —
MR. SAMS: — that there was sharing of classified information.
Q Right. Is your contention that just because the President rewrote classified material in his own words and then shared it with somebody who didn’t have the security clearance for it that it was okay?
MR. SAMS: Well, let’s look at the report. I mean, we talked a little — a lot about this report. I understand it’s long — 400 pages. I — you know, I’m not sure how many people in this room have read the entire thing.
Page 3, which I think is what everybody is asking about — and understandably — says, quote, “Mr. Biden shared information, including some classified information, with his ghostwriter.” Right? But if you go to page 248, the report says, quote, “We conclude that the evidence does not establish that Mr. Biden willfully disclosed national defense information to his writing assistant.” That’s in the report. That’s the conclusion that was made based on the evidence.
And I — there’s something else I want to add about this, because it’s gone — we’ve gone back and forth. On page 1 of the report, it says, “The President willfully retained classified-marked documents relating to Afghanistan.” But on page 215 of the report, it says, quote, “There is, in fact, a shortage of evidence on these points.”
On page 5 of the report — everybody read that — first few pages — it says, quote, “Mr. Biden’s memory was significantly limited.” But here’s something that everybody should make sure that they see: Elsewhere in the report, he says, quote, “We expect the evidence of Mr. Biden’s state of mind to be compelling,” pointing to him providing, quote, “clear and forceful testimony.” That’s his comments on his state of mind later in the report.
And so, I think it’s important to kind of take the report in its totality and understand that, in that report, the facts and evidence refute the theories that are floated that they explored.
Q I think maybe we disagree on if he should have used the word “willfully” last night. But there’s one other thing I wanted to ask you about, which was that his attorneys said that they were going to work on the process to make sure that none of this happens again.
MR. SAMS: Yeah.
Q Obviously, there’s the potential that this administration has less than a year left. So, I’m wondering if you could detail what —
MR. SAMS: Don’t say that.
Q — (laughs) — what the timeline is on that, what you guys are considering for — for that type of process.
MR. SAMS: That’s a great question. I think that something that this issue a year ago brought to light is that this is a, unfortunately, very common occurrence in our country. The National Archives has talked about how 80 different libraries and collections just in the last decade or so have called and said, “Oh, we found classified documents in these papers.” And they have a process that you’re supposed to turn those back in.
But then, you know, we had the issue with President Biden. Immediately after that, we had the issue with Vice President Pence. And I think it’s important to understand that this is a common occurrence, and the President thinks that we should fix it.
Like, he gave all these documents back. He knew he did not — that these governments should be in possession — that the government should be in possession of these documents.
And so, what we’re going to do is the President is going to appoint a task force to review how transitions look at classified material to ensure that there are better processes in place so that when, you know, staffs around the building are rushedly packing up boxes to try to get out during a transition as quickly as possible at the same time and up until the very moment that, you know, they’re still governing and doing matters of state, you know, they’re going to try to make recommendations that that can be fixed.
And he’s going to appoint a senior government leader to do that. We’ll have more on that soon.
Q He posted in 2017 that he —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Kelly — Kelly O.
Q — had classified material down —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Kelly O. Go ahead, Kelly.
Q He boasted about it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Kelly.
Q In your advocacy here and in the President’s counsel writing back to Mr. Hur, you’re saying that there were gratuitous comments, that there are false pieces of information. How is the American public supposed to process this when we also live in a world where former President Trump asserts that there was a politicized process that resulted in his prosecution related to classified documents and other things?
So, for the public, if Democrats and this administration say, “Trust the Department of Justice; trust the institutions,” but you’re also arguing here gratuitous political cheap shots and false assertions, how are they to process that?
MR. SAMS: Well, I talked about this actually a minute ago. And I think, you know, when you have the former Attorney General, when you have the former acting FBI director, when you have the former general counsel of the FBI, you know, these are experienced people at the Justice Department who spent decades working at the Justice Department. And they’re saying it’s gratuitous. They’re saying that this is inappropriate, that this is inconsistent with DOJ policy and practice. That’s them saying it.
We agree. You know, you heard the President speak forcefully about this last night. You heard the Vice President speak forcefully about this today. We certainly agree that it’s gratuitous.
But I explained this a little bit in the opening. We’re in a very pressurized political environment. And when you are the first special counsel in history not to indict anybody, there is pressure to criticize and to make, you know, statements that maybe and otherwise you wouldn’t make. And, you know, I think that it leaves you wondering why some of these critiques are in there.
But I think it’s also important to just fundamentally distinguish between the — the prior case that you mentioned. I want to be careful in terms of commenting on that. But the special counsel report goes into great detail about the differences and distinctions there. And I think it’s important to understand that the criticisms that you’re hearing of the gratuitous comments in the report — which are wrong, frankly — you know, this is being shared by people who have deep experience at the Justice Department.
Q On the many issues related to memory, they certainly seemed to prompt an angry response from the President and from his advocates. Is there anything being done to address that issue in an ongoing way? Obviously, counsel wrote, asking for some of those things to be removed. It is potential that Robert Hur could be called before Congress to testify in public. Are there any steps that the administration would take addressing that specific issue? Is it in relation to overall medical physician’s report of the President or other things to demonstrate what is the issue with memory and is it a factor that deals with his capacity to serve?
MR. SAMS: Well, I have a lot of issues with the contents of that question. And Karine has answered a lot about the President’s transparency in his medical records and his physical and things of that nature. And I, you know, leave that to — to Karine to handle.
But I’ll say, I just read you this. Page 248 — or — sorry, excuse me. Later in the report, he says, quote, “We expect the evidence of Mr. Biden’s state of mind to be compelling,” pointing to him providing, quote, “clear” and, quote, “forceful testimony.”
I can’t explain why the report veers all over the place on this issue. I can just say — and as you’ve heard from the Vice President; you heard from members of Congress yesterday talking about their recent interactions with the President — one, Congressman Goldman from New York, talking about his interaction with the President the day before this interview, when Congressman Goldman was on the ground in Israel, and the long and intensive and detailed conversation they had about what was going on on the ground.
We just reject that this is true. And — and I think that — I think that it — it does raise questions about the gratuitousness. And it raises — you know, makes you wonder why that’s in there.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Weijia.
Q Thank you, Karine. And thank you, Ian. So, you are discrediting some of the findings in this report. You are discrediting some of the observations of President Biden. So, why should the American public accept the conclusion that charges weren’t warranted?
MR. SAMS: I’m not sure I understand exactly what you’re asking.
Q I’m saying you’re claiming that much of the report is inaccurate. So, why are you so confident that the conclusion is correct? It seems like you’re cherry picking —
MR. SAMS: The conclusion has been obvious from the very beginning. It was a long, intensive, sort of meandering investigation that came to the conclusion that, in February of last year, everybody knew: that this wasn’t intentional; that this was an accident; that they were found, and as soon as they were found, the President said, “Give them back. Get them back as soon as we can and fully cooperate with everything.” So, he reached the inevitable conclusion because it’s the truth.
The conduct of the investigation throughout and the gratuitous comments in the report are troubling and they’re inappropriate. But I think that the — the finding was the obvious one because it’s the truth.
Q President Biden blamed his staff largely for the mishandling of documents and where they ultimately ended up. Does the President believe he did everything right when it comes to handling classified material?
MR. SAMS: Well, just look at the re- — again, look at the report. I know it’s long. But the report talks about how the evidence is that these were most likely things that were packed up by staff during movements and transitions and things of that nature. So, that’s reflected by the report.
It’s not some accusation by the President. It’s just true. I mean, you guys know. You guys work with White House staff all the time. We support the principal; that’s our job. And the principal relies on their staff to help them with things.
And the President said this last night. You know, he talked about how, you know, looking back, if he had been more eng- — he wishes he had been more engaged in that process of the packing and the moving things to make sure that things were being done the right way.
And I think the most important thing to remember is once it was realized that something wrong had happened, he did everything right to give it back and to fix the problem.
Q What about all the stuff that he talked about that was in his home in filing cabinets that were either locked or able to be locked in his house? What stuff was he talking about? Classified materials?
MR. SAMS: Well, we talked ab- — I mean, the report goes on at length about this. I’d encourage you to — to read it. It talks about —
Q No, I’m talking about what he said last night. He said: The stuff in my house was all in filing cabinets that “were either locked or able to be locked.”
Didn’t he put them in his home?
MR. SAMS: I’m — I’m not really following the question. I think that what’s clear is that — and I told this to Justin a minute ago: You know, he has personal diaries that he had. Of course he has his personal diaries.
The documents that were taken were jumbled up in boxes and found inadvertently in places. And — and that’s — that’s what happened, so —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We — we’ve got to move on. Go ahead, Tam.
Q Thank you. How concerned is the President and — and the team here that the, quote, “gratuitous comments” are going to damage him, damage public perception of him?
MR. SAMS: I think the public is smart. And I think that they can see what’s going on. I think that they see a president who fully cooperated. I think they see a president who did the right thing and made sure everything got back. And I think that they see that this was a long investigation that ended without a case to be made. And, you know, I think that they can see and understand, you know, when people are gratuitous and — and make comments that they shouldn’t make and that are beyond the — the remit of a prosecutor to do. I think that they understand that. And I think that they — I think that they’ll — they’ll understand that the President did the right thing here.
Q If the 7th and 8th were obviously — or 8th and 9th were obviously, like, very busy days where the President was overstretched, taking calls in the middle of the night, all of this, why continue with the interview with Hur? Why not do it on another day? Why give him the opportunity to have these lines in the report about lapses about timelines?
MR. SAMS: Is that — he should have thrown up roadblocks, is that you’re saying? I mean, no —
Q No, I — I’m saying —
MR. SAMS: — he — he committed to it. And as —
Q — he could have told the Special Counsel —
MR. SAMS: And —
Q — like, “Hey, the world is on fire. Could we do it another day?”
MR. SAMS: I’ll tell you what’s interesting about this — and this is oddly not in the report — is at the beginning of his interview, the special counsel told the President, “I understand that, you know, you’re dealing with a lot of things right now. And I’m going to be asking you questions about stuff from a long time ago. I want you to try to recall to the best of your abilities,” you know, things of that nature. That’s often what prosecutors would tell witnesses.
So, you know, he understood that. But the President was going to commit to being cooperative. He talked about this last night. He wanted to make sure he had everything he needed, and he didn’t want to throw up roadblocks.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’ve got to move on. Go ahead, Tyler.
Q Thanks, Karine. Just a first question: Has the President read the entire report? And when was he given the — the report? Did — did he review it when his lawyers did the privilege review? And do you have any, just, context on when he himself found the — the findings of it?
MR. SAMS: We received the report yesterday from the Justice Department formally, like, present — you know, sending it over. Obviously, the President’s lawyers were — were doing the privilege review that we disclosed to everybody was happening and disclosed when we had concluded it.
And so, I think, you know, they were — you know, they had — they had briefed him on — on — on the material, as the client, you know, as is typical in a — in a legal case. And then we received the full report yesterday.
You know, the President has been pretty busy. I’m not sure if he’s read 400 pages. I’m not sure how many, you know, folks in this room have read all 400 pages of it. But he certainly is familiar with the contents of the report.
Q And then just one quick follow-up. The President was animated last night, rejecting the idea that he did not remember when his son died. Can you provide a little bit more context about was he directly asked in the interview by the special counsel for the dates? Was it part of a broader conversation? I just think some additional context to understand what is in that report might be helpful.
MR. SAMS: Yeah, I think — I mean, the President was pretty clear last night, and I think that the American people have heard from him for years about the pain and the suffering that they went through when Beau passed away and the gravity of that.
And I think to suggest that he couldn’t remember when his son died is really out of bounds. You know, the conversations in the — in the interview back and forth — you know, he’s being asked about, you know, file folders from a basement and “how did they get there” and “what is that” and “what were you doing around that time” and things of that nature.
I don’t want to — just to be very careful, I don’t want to get into specific, you know, things while it’s still in a classification process. But, you know, it is safe to say that, of course, the President knows when his son died.
Q So do you have any sense of why the special counsel would write explicitly in the report that the President did not — was unable to recall when his son died?
MR. SAMS: You’d have to ask the special counsel why he chose to include that.
Q Thanks, Karine. Thanks, Ian. So, you said that you told the special counsel that the criticisms of President Biden were inaccurate, gratuitous, and wrong. So, how did the special counsel respond when you told them that?
MR. SAMS: (Inaudible.)
Q So, they ignored it?
MR. SAMS: I’m unaware of any changes that were made in response to our very strong, forceful, and rooted-in-evidence arguments that we provided.
Q And you had just mentioned how these interviews happened shortly after the October 7th attacks. The President mentioned it last night. In mentioning that, does that mean that possible memory lapses happened because he was so distracted by what was happening overseas or do you dispute that he had any memory issues during those hours of interviews?
Q I — I dispute that the characterizations about his memory that were in the report are accurate, because they’re not. And I think the President spoke very clearly about how he — his mind was on other things. I mean, he was dealing with a huge international crisis of great global consequence.
And, you know, he was trying his best to — to answer questions in this interview, because he wanted to be fully cooperative.
Q So, there were no memory lapses during?
MR. SAMS: I think you — I think there’s something important that people should remember about the way that sort of interviews like this happen. If God forbid, you know, one of you guys ever have to get interviewed by a prosecutor — and, you know, I hope you don’t — you know, witnesses are told, as I mentioned, by Special Counsel to do the best they can to recall or remember things. And they’re — they’re not supposed to speculate. You know, they want facts. They want facts and evidence.
And so, you know, I think probably in almost every prosecutorial interview you can imagine that people have said that they don’t recall things, because that’s what they’re instructed to do. So, I think that’s just important context to keep in mind.
Q And just lastly, in September, the President was asked about Trump’s classified documents being found in Mar-a-Lago, and he said, quote, “How could that possibly happen? How could anyone be that irresponsible?” But there were classified documents found in the President’s garage in a damaged cardboard box. So, would that be considered irresponsible?
MR. SAMS: Look, I think the President made clear that he gave everything back as soon as he found out that he had it. And so, you know, I think that it’s fundamentally incorrect to try to analogize the situation or to and — and frankly, the report says that too.
And the idea that — that he did anything except be totally cooperative and to take great strides to ensure that the classified documents were returned speaks for itself.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Go ahead.
Q Thank you. Ian, the Vice President referred today to the report as being “politically motivated.” Is that the position of the White House, that this report was politically motivated?
MR. SAMS: I — I saw the Vice President’s remarks, and I thought they were very powerful.
And I talked about this a little bit at the top of our conversation here today. You know, there’s an environment that we are in that generates a ton of pressure, because you have congressional Republicans, other Republicans attacking prosecutors that they don’t like, and it creates, you know, a need — if you’re going to determine that charges weren’t filed, people are human and they’re thinking through, you know, what do we need to do? And, you know, it leaves one to wonder exactly why he included a lot of the criticisms that were in there.
Q Also, on — with regard to the staff, President Biden has had some staff members who’ve worked for him for decades. He referenced their mistake last night. Has he had a visit with any of these staff members? Do the staff members who are responsible for taking those documents to his house — do they still work for the President? Have there been any consequences?
MR. SAMS: Well, I think I talked about this also before. I mean, this is an issue that has plagued administrations of both parties for 50 years, where accidentally things get shuffled up and taken and removed.
And the Archives has, you know — literally, they put a Frequently Asked Questions page on their website about what you do if you find them accidentally. That’s how often it happens.
And, you know, he gave them all back as soon as he found out about it. We understand that mistakes happen sometimes. I’m not going to get into sort of individual witness or parsing like that from the report.
Q It didn’t happen for President Obama, President Clinton, President Bush, Sr., or President Bush, Jr. I don’t know if three people makes it a common —
MR. SAMS: That’s actually not true. Officials from all administrations from the past, you know, half century or so have had this accidentally happen.
Q But not the principals.
MR. SAMS: But you’re — you’re parsing two things. You asked me about the fact that — and the report states this clearly: This is likely the result of inadvertent packing by staff. And you asked exactly about the staff issue. And so, I’m responding about staff issue.
Q And — okay. And you can’t say whether the staff still work for President Biden?
MR. SAMS: Well, I’m saying that — that the — the question you’re asking about the frequency and normalcy, unfortunately, of mistakes like these being made, they happen. And what — what matters is how you respond to it. And when you find out that there was a mistake that was made, you give everything back, and that’s exactly what was done.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. We’re trying to get as much people as possible. Go ahead, M.J.
Q Thanks, Ian. What does it — what does it say about Merrick Garland’s judgment that he appointed someone who ultimately put out a report that was so egregious, so inappropriate, and flouted department regulations and norms?
MR. SAMS: I think the President actually answered this question last night. I’m not sure which of you asked him it. But he talked about, you know, his views on the appointment of the Special Prosecutor, and I really don’t have anything beyond what he said.
Q Two things I was hoping you could quickly clarify. The report says that in 2017, the President told his ghostwriter that he just found all the classified stuff downstairs. Why did he not report that at the time?
MR. SAMS: Well, and this is included in the report, as well, if you read through it. The President was talking about a handwritten letter that he had sent to President Obama — that he faxed to him — about the Afghanistan policy in 2009.
And, you know, he says — you know, and this is in the report — that he’s — and he said last night, you know, “I should have said ‘sensitive’; I should have said, you know, really care- — you know, more careful language about that,” because he was talking about something that was a personal — like, a letter he sent to the President.
Q So, in his mind, it was “sensitive,” but what he said was “classified”?
MR. SAMS: Yeah, this is in the report. They talk a lot about how, you know, the President actually took great care when talking with his book writer to note things like, “Hey, I — you need to be really careful with some of this stuff. I’m not entirely sure about it.”
And so, I think that — I think that that’s important to realize, that the report itself actually talks about what care he took with this sort of information as they explore all the theories and go through all the evidence that sort of refutes most of those theories — almost all of — actually, all of those theories, when you think about the judgment that there will be no case in this — in this matter.
So, you know, that’s — that’s addressed in the report.
Q And the second thing. The President also said last night, “All the stuff that was in my home was in filing cabinets that were either locked or able to be locked.” But the report says that some of the classified documents were in cabinet drawers, while others — about Afghanistan, for example — were in unsealed and “badly damaged box” sitting in his garage. So, did the President misspeak last night?
MR. SAMS: Look, I think the President was responding to a number of inaccurate allegations in this — in this report. We’ve talked a lot about — Justin asked about the diaries. I mean, this is his personal diaries. Of course, he has them in his house.
So, you know, I don’t have anything kind of to add on what he said last night.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Zolan.
Q I want to follow up on the Vice President’s comments. You’ve been saying “gratuitous.” She said “politically motivated.” Is it this — is it this administration’s stance that this report was issued in part or there was a motive in this issue — a goal — a goal with this report to inflict political harm on the President?
MR. SAMS: I think that you have to look at what — I mean, we talked about this at the beginning of our conversation today. You have a situation where former DOJ officials are talking about the political repercussions of these actions and that it’s incumbent upon the prosecutor to take great care to follow departmental policy to not criticize unindicted conduct and behavior or characteristics, which we’ve seen in — in this case. And —
Q I understand that’s former DOJ officials. But this White House right now — is it the stance by this White House that this report was issued, in part, with a motive and a goal to inflict political harm on the President?
MR. SAMS: I — I heard the question the first time, and I’m just — I, you know, have nothing to object to in what the Vice President said. I thought she was powerful and forceful.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Frances- —
Q But also, just to follow up. I’m sorry. This administration, as you said — you said that Republicans have often attacked prosecutors’ —
MR. SAMS: Yeah.
Q — independent systems.
MR. SAMS: That is well known.
Q And you said that’s created an environment where, if I’ve interpreted this right, there is an incentive by the special counsel to include some of this language. But often I’ve heard from Democrats and this White House say that those attacks against independent systems can also sow distrust with the public and those independent institutions.
By saying that this is politically motivated — not just gratuitous but politically motivated — does this not also sow distrust with the public and independent institutions?
MR. SAMS: I reject — I reject that question. You see this — and it’s in the report — the letter that the — the President’s lawyer and the White House Counsel’s Office sent to the special counsel to talk about the Department of Justice norms and policies that they see as being violated by some of the comments and remarks made in the report.
And so, you know, I think that that’s a false equivalence kind of question, because what we have argued and what we continue to say and believe is that you’re not supposed to make these sorts of things, according to Justice Department policy. We — the President, when he ran — and you guys all know this because you heard this — talked about how important it was to restore the rule of law. And he understands that. And he talked about this last night, to M.J.’s point, about the appointment of the special counsel and, sort of, how he felt about that.
You know, this is a president who is committed to the — to restoring those norms. And I think when we object to some of the gratuitousness in the comments that you’re asking about, you know, we’re — and you heard me talk about the former Attorney General and other people who have made those comments — you know, they are criticizing that this does not follow those norms.
MR. SAMS: Yeah, I know. We’ve got to keep going, guys.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’ve got to move on. Go ahead, (inaudible).
Q With respect to the portion of the video and the transcript where he was asked about his time as Vice President and about Beau Biden’s death, why not release those parts of the video? Those aren’t classified.
MR. SAMS: It’s a transcript we’re talking about, and I already addressed this with Justin.
Q Okay. So —
MR. SAMS: (Inaudible.)
Q So, what you’re saying is this was a video; there’s was — there’s not tapes that you can release of that?
MR. SAMS: I’ve just responded. I think that the question —
MR. SAMS: — is about the transcript.
Q Okay. And for — and as far as Attorney — former Attorney General Holder is concerned, you referenced him and the normal DOJ review process. He brought that up in his Tweet as well — or his X posting. What part of the normal DOJ review process is the White House saying was violated or bypassed in some way?
MR. SAMS: Well, there’s actually — it’s an interesting question. It’s a little in the weeds. Pardon me. But this — the special counsel regulations that exist at the Justice Department govern the process that is supposed to happen here. And the Justice Department has its own, sort of, manual of procedures. And, you know, as you’ve heard from those experts, you’re not supposed to, sort of, criticize unindicted conduct when you’re making these determinations.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Phil, in the back.
Q Thank you. A follow-up and then a separate question. You said a moment ago that the President was responding to inaccurate information when he claimed last night that “all the stuff in my home was behind locked filing cabinets.” Is he entirely clear now, at this point, where all the documents were discovered? And does he now know that his statement about locked filing cabinets is false?
MR. SAMS: The — the report lays out in 400 pages of detail all of the evidence and all of the review that they conducted in looking into this matter. The President made sure that all of the classified documents that were found were returned promptly to the government, which is what you’re supposed to do, which is why this is the inevitable conclusion that there is no case here.
Q And that’s not what I asked, though. Does he know that his statement yesterday that all the documents were behind locked cabinets was inaccurate? Is he clear, in his mind? I know that last night was perhaps con- — you know, a stressful, confusing environment, but does he now know —
MR. SAMS: I understand what you’re trying to ask, Phil, and I think that I’ve answered the question.
Q I — I have a separate follow-up question.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q And that is —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No. Go ahead, in the back.
Q My follow-up question after that lack of a response was: There was an eye-popping moment in the report, specifically about the President’s ghostwriter. And that was that after he learned that the special counsel had began an investigation, he deleted some of his recordings. Now, those recordings were able to be recovered. What I’m curious about is: Can you say definitively whether or not the President or anyone else at the White House was in contact with his ghostwriter?
MR. SAMS: This is in the report. I mean, read the report. In the report, it says that — that they sought this, they looked into this, and that they didn’t. So —
Q So, they were not in contact?
MR. SAMS: — that’s in the report.
Q They were not in contact?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Jon. And then we’re going to wrap this up. Go ahead, Jon.
Q Thank you, Karine. Ian, thank you so much.
MR. SAMS: Sure. Yeah.
Q Two questions. Just for clarity, you’re from the White House Counsel’s Office, correct?
MR. SAMS: Correct.
Q But you’re not a lawyer, correct?
MR. SAMS: That’s correct.
MR. SAMS: I’m the spokesperson.
Q Okay. Any chance that we’ll get the White House Counsel to come out here and answer questions directly?
MR. SAMS: I — should I be offended by that? (Laughter.) I mean, I — I was —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Don’t worry, I get offended all the time.
MR. SAMS: I know. I mean, what? I mean, come on.
Q You did say something that was factually incorrect —
MR. SAMS: I was — I was asked —
Q — Ian. There has been a previous special counsel probe.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Jon, finish — finish your question, please.
MR. SAMS: I was asked to come today by your colleagues in the press corps, and we happily obliged.
Q Thank you. As you know, former President Trump, he was charged with a slew of criminal charges related to classified documents in his possession, including counts of willful retention of national defense information.
In this report, it’s made clear by the special counsel that President Biden willfully retained and disclosed classified material. He kept it in unsecured locations after his vice presidency, which presented, according to the special counsel, “serious risks to national security.”
So, my question to you, Ian, is: Can you explain to every voter out there — every American why it is that President Biden essentially is let off the hook and former President Trump is now facing these slew of criminal charges, which seem, to most people, very similar?
MR. SAMS: Great wind-up, Jon. I mean — I mean, really good wind-up. I talked about this already: page 1, willful retention; page 215, there is, in fact, a shortage of evidence on these points.
The report itself goes through in great detail the facts and evidence that led to the obvious conclusion that there was no case here. The report itself answers the question you’re asking about the distinction between two cases. As you guys have heard us from the White House say for a long time, we’re very careful about commenting on certain cases like that.
Just I would encourage you — perhaps all of you: Read the report.
Q I’ve read the report, and that’s the reason why I asked that question. And the reason why so many people seem confused, because you hear “willful retention of national defense information” related to Trump, “willful retention of classimi- — classified material” relating to President Biden, and yet one individual is facing a criminal trial being brought by the Department of Justice in Fort Pierce, Florida, and the other one —
MR. SAMS: Sure. And I think this is —
Q — is not facing any charges whatsoever.
MR. SAMS: Sure. And I think I’ve talked to many of — of you guys in the room over the last 24 hours about this. The allegation that there was willful retention of documents is refuted by the evidence in the report.
And the conclusion was made directly that the evidence does not support that claim. He explored the theory. It’s in there on page 2. Everybody focused on it. I’m exploring the theory of willful retention, but that the evidence as a whole was insufficient because that’s not what the facts show.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thank you so much, Ian.
MR. SAMS: Thanks, Karine.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Appreciate it.
MR. SAMS: Really appreciate you guys.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, Ian.
Q Thanks, Ian. There was a previous special counsel probe that did not result in indictments, by the way: the Ham Jordan case.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Okay. Thank you. I would say refer to the White House Special Couns- — no, not special counsel, but legal counsel, and they’re here. They came.
Okay. Go ahead, Aamer.
Q Excuse me. Two questions. Just following up on —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — comments that the President made last night.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q President Biden called the military operations in Gaza “over the top.” And this comes after the White House has pretty consistently defended Israel’s conduct. What’s changed and what exactly did the President mean by “over the top”?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. So, first of all, I — you know, I would say nothing has changed. His position hasn’t changed. His — I don’t think his messaging hasn’t — has changed. We don’t think his messaging has changed. He doesn’t believe his messaging has changed.
This isn’t something — the first time he’s done so — what you heard from him yesterday. Look, the President made it very clear in his comment that he was obviously talking about Israel’s conduct in Gaza. And he’s been clear — he’s been clear that the United States wants to see Hamas, a terrorist organization, defeated. He’s been very clear on that. That is a shared goal that we have, obviously, with Israel.
But at the same time — at the same time, while we have said that, we have been also very clear — the President has been very clear that they must do so by ensuring that their operations are targeted and conducted in a way that we are protecting innocent civilians, and that is something that we have been incredibly consistent about here in this administration. We want to make sure that we are also protecting innocent civilians.
So, that is what the President was — was speaking to yesterday. He was asked, like, obviously, a direct question, and he answered that.
Q Okay. Can I just ask — secondly, the President, last night, bristled against the fact that many Americans have concerns about his age. I think to question of one of my colleagues, he said, “That’s your judgment,” suggesting it’s the media’s judgment.
There’s no shortage of published polls that suggests Americans have concern about his age and stamina, and it’s been put in all sort of different ways. So, is the President out of touch with what Americans feel about this issue?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, you know, look, obviously, when it comes to the report, more broadly, you just heard from my colleague, Ian Sams — that part of the report, we don’t think be- — lives in reality, and that’s what he was speaking to, where — where, you know, comments were made in that report about that — about — obviously, about his memory that we don’t believe lives in reality.
Q So —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And — no, no, no. I’m going to answer your question. Just give me — just give me — just give me a beat. I’m going to answer your question.
When you have a president that has been one of the most productive, if not the most productive and effective presidents in modern time, that, you would assume, is a president that is indeed in touch with where the American people are. Right? That would assume that the President understands what’s going on around the kitchen table when Americans are sitting around the kitchen table trying to figure out how are they going to deal with the economy, how are we going to deal with the healthcare.
So, in our opinion, in my opinion, he is very much in touch with what Americans are feeling out there as it relates to lowering costs, as it relates to making sure that we Big — beat Big Pharma. This is a President who understands what the American people are feeling.
Look, as it relates to his age, as it relates to what has been said by — you know, by — in this report, it is something that we don’t believe lives in reality, in the sense of this is — this is a president I have spent — I have known this president since 2009. I’ve known this president. He has been not just my boss but a mentor to me.
And no one in this building would say that — what we saw in this report about his memory. Everybody sees somebody who works very, very hard — has spent hours with him — understanding exactly where the American people are and what they’re feeling, and also how to deliver on those and critical, important issues to them.
Q Your argument on hi- — on the report and the assertion that it’s gratuitous is well taken, as well as —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — what you believe is his performance. I get that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q But he seemed to be playing with a different set of facts. The facts are that this is an issue that Americans are concerned about. And he’s saying that it’s just the media’s judgment.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Right, but he has also joked around with all of you and talked about — and said some — some things about his age in a way that he understands where people — where people are. He actually said that when — in his answer. He has also mentioned his old pal, Jimmy Madison, right?
He — he gets it. He gets how he’s viewed. He gets what people see and what’s written about him and what the American people also see.
But there are other things to note, right? McCarthy, when he was Speaker, said that he has found the President “mentally sharp in meetings.” You know, there are stories like that from — as — they’re saying it quietly, privately — House Republicans and other Republicans in Con- — in Congress.
But there’s reports from all of you, who have said that they have — they have interviewed some of these folks and have said the President is sharp. The President — when they have a conversation with the President, he understands the issue.
I mean, we saw it at the la- — last State of the Union. He — you know, he was able to negotiate while giving a very important speech — about 90 minutes — to the world. Like, I mean, you know, millions of Americans watch as he was able to negotiate with House Republicans in the room.
Q So, is —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, people see that al- — also for themselves. They also see that for themselves as well.
Q So, is the President’s feel that this is — the result of Americans being concerned about his age is just based on a media narrative and it’s — it’s not based in reality?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, what I’m saying is that he hear — he understands what people may think. He has actually joked about it. He actually has joked about it, saying “Jimmy Madison” and have said many other things.
He says, “I know I’m not — I know people think I’m 40 years old.” Like, he has made jokes about it. So, he gets it.
What we are saying — what I am saying in front of you today is that he has results. There are a results, his record. The data shows that this is a president that gets where the American people are and has delivered in that way — whether it’s the economy, whether it’s healthcare.
Even on the global stage, what other leaders have said about him — right? — what other — what — he has been able to bring leaders together, more than 50 countries, to deal with an issue — not an issue, a war — be very clear — in Ukraine, where the brave people of Ukraine are fighting against Mr. Putin’s aggression.
So, world leaders see it. Leaders on the other side of Pennsylvania — whether it’s a Republican or a Democrat — see it. And so, that matters as well.
And that’s what we’re trying to say to you as well. It is that we have seen and we have heard from others that this is a president that has delivered and this is a president that’s going to continue to do so for the American people.
Go ahead, Selina.
Q Thanks, Karine. You’ve downplayed concerns about the President’s memories in situations where he has mixed up certain things. You’ve said it happens and it’s common. But yesterday, we saw the President again have a mix-up with the President of Egypt with the President of Mexico. So, how do you explain that? Is it not valid that voters would have these concerns?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, what I would say is this: This is a president that has rela- — this has had relationship with world leaders for more than 40 years. He has. And at times — and I even said this yesterday — does he has — has he, you know, misspoken, as many of us do? I’ve laid out some examples of even Speaker Johnson just on — on TV, on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, who — who said he — he supports Iran when he meant to say he supports Israel. It happens. It truly, truly happens.
In that same answer that he gave, he actually gave an incredibly detailed answer on the overlapping dynamics in the Middle East as he was — as he was responding to the question that he received from one of your colleagues.
And look, I — I want to quote one more — one more person, as I’ve been quoting folks this — today.
Yair Rosenberg at The Atlantic said, “Biden has gaffe- — gaffed names his entire career.” His entire career. It is not uncommon that he has done that, like many of us do. And he said, “He was — he was clearly — and he was clearly talking — clearly talking about Egypt, and named Sisi, and laid out his policy and the broader issues in detail. Twitter just isn’t interested” in that. Right?
And so, look, this is a president who has the experience. He has been — and you’ve heard me say this: He has been senator for 36 years; he’s been, obviously, pres- — vice president for 8; and now president. He has these long, long relationships with leaders.
I think what’s important here is to remember is that when it comes to the essence of the issue, the issue at hand, he understands that and has dealt with that — probably, you know, better than, you know, any modern-day president because of the record that we have seen, because of what has presented in front of him as we look at what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in Ukraine, what’s going on in the Middle East.
Q How did the President react when he first saw the report?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I’m not going to get into, you know, private discussions, private conversations with the President- — with the President.
Q And just to follow up quickly. I think Justin had asked this before, but Ian Sams was making this argument that these are notes that he was reading from his own personal notes, from his own personal diary. But that can still be classified information, even if it was stuff he had written to himself. So, is the White House disputing that there was classified information there that —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, I’m not going to get into — Ian spent a good couple of minutes going back and forth and answering that question. I’m just not — I don’t have anything else beyond what Ian — Ian, my colleague, shared here.
I think the bigger picture here is that the close is — the case is closed. And I think that’s what the American people also should know as well. And so, I’m just not going to get into details from here.
Q Thanks, Karine. With concerns about the President’s age, are there any plans within the White House to have him engage more with the press? Engage more, you know, there — he decided not to do the interview before the Super Bowl that many presidents have done. Has there been any considerations about revisiting that or other sorts of engagements to — as you said, many people in the White House do not see the image of him that the report depicts. Are there conversations about trying to change that perception among the American people?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look — look, you — you saw — you — your colleagues were I think — were you in the room, Tyler, yesterday?
Your colleagues were — and yourself — were able to see the President and ask questions yesterday. He was — he did that, I believe — if not the day before yesterday, he did that a couple of times this week — I think about three times — engaging with the press. It’s just something that he does pretty often.
You know, and we’re going to try and obviously pick moments. He’s going to, on his own, have moments where he’s going to want to walk over and talk to all of us, as he has done many times before.
And he — we’re going to continue to, obviously — to your question, yes, we’re going to find many different ways to engage with the press. That’s something that we think — it’s very important. It’s important to take your questions. It’s important to hear from all of you and hear directly to, you know, what — you know, what’s — what’s on the mind of the American people, as well as what we believe is on the mind of the American people and take your questions.
So, that’s not going to change. I don’t have — I don’t have anything —
Q Well, not would that change, but I’m just wondering if there has been more conversation in the White House in the last 24 hours about, you know, a sense of urgency to try and get the President out there.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, I hear the question, but he literally took questions from all of you three times this week — three times — once when we were on the —
Q But not just about questions from the press, but just more broadly about getting the President out — out more to try to combat the idea that he has memory issues as — or — and isn’t, you know —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, Ty- — I hear your question, but he — we literally did — I was on the road with the President from Thursday last week until Monday evening. We went to Detroit — or Mich- — we went to Michigan, we went to California, we went to — you know, we went to Vegas. The President has been out there. You know? And that’s something that we’re going to continue to do.
And so, he wants to be out there to talk directly to the American people. You hear us say that all the time. And you’ve seen him do that throughout the month of January. And now, obviously, we’re in February. We’re going to continue doing that as we have been for the last two to three years. It’s not going to stop.
Q Thanks, Karine. A question about Israel. Has he communicated to Prime Minister Netanyahu that he believes his response has been “over the top”? Is that language he has used in their discussions?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, we have read out — well, every — you know, we’ve read out conversations that the President has had with the Prime Minister. The President has always been clear with — with the Prime Minister. I just don’t have anything beyond that.
You know, what he — you know, what he — he has — he said yesterday — what the President said yesterday, he’s done before in saying very clearly obviously — obviously, we believe that Israel has a right to defend itself. Obviously, we believe we are in agreement that, you know, a terrorist organization — we have to — they have to make sure that they are — deal with this terrorist organization that Octo- — October 7th, you know, terrorized — terrorized and killed more than, you know, 1,200 people. That is a reality.
But at the same time, the President has also been clear that their military operations need to be done in a precise way, in a more targeted way. We need to protect civilians’ lives. And so, you know, that has been the case.
Now, in the broader scope, the President has been working with his team to make sure that we have another humanitarian pause. We understand how important that is to make sure we bring those hostages home to their friends, to their family, to their loved ones and also get that really critical, important humanitarian aid that’s needed in Gaza — get that in there.
And so, that’s what — that’s been the President’s position. Nothing has changed there.
Q Can you clarify whether there’s been any change in White House policy with regard to tying aid for Israel to its actions?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any change of policy to announce to you — to all of you.
Q Just since my colleague referenced a question that we asked last night. The question was about voters having concerns about the President’s age, and his response was that that was my judgment. I was obviously making a reference to public polls that are out there that indicate that voters do have this concern. So, does the President not believe that many voters have this concern about his age?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, the President has talked about it. He has joked about his age, right? He has. He has joked about his age, understanding what — what voters might think. He has. He has done — he done — he has done that pretty often.
I think what he — I think the other thing that you — that we want to make sure that you all understand is that this is a president that also has delivered for the American people. That is a fact. That is something that we see in the data. That is something that we see in the policy, whether it’s bipartisan legislation that we’ve been able to get through that people didn’t think we would be able to get through, whether it’s as — as it relates to, like, infrastructure or the — the CHIPS and Science Act — real, real, real things that American people feel.
And for him, that’s what he believes is important to focus on, is what the American people need in the sense of issues that matter to them. And that’s what he wants his focus to be. That’s what we want our focus to be as well. That’s what we’re always trying to communicate with all of you.
But he jokes arou- — about it all the time. He makes jokes about his age all the time.
Q I’m just asking for clarification on why the fact that we brought up that concern prompted him to say this is “your judgment,” as though there isn’t —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Because — because what I —
Q — public polling that shows that voters do have that concern.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I just state- — I just stated moments ago, it is — it is your judgment — right? — in the sense of, like, that is not what we see. Right? When we see what —
Q It wasn’t my judgment.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: But meaning more broadly. I’m not talking about you specifically.
Q Yes, more broadly —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: More broadly.
Q — voters have that concern.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Right.
Q I’m just asking: Does the President believe and understand that that is a concern that voters have?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I already he said he understands. That’s why he makes jokes about it. I get — he understands that. But what we are trying to say is: Our judgment from here — what we see from this president is a president that is zeroed in and focused on the American people. When we see him working, he is focused.
And we don’t see what — for example, all of this was brought up by the report. We — we do not believe that part of the report lives in reality. And that is what we’re speaking to. That is what we’re talking about.
Q Do you think there’s any risk to the President sounding like he’s dis- — dismissing that concern when he has that kind of reaction to a question like that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the President is going to obviously speak for himself and lay out what he thinks is important for the — to talk about as it relates to the Amer- — American people. When it tal- — when — he wants to talk about the economy. He wants to talk about healthcare.
We’re — we are talking this week about gun violence — right? — how do we prevent gun violence, which is an issue that is incredibly important to communities across the country, when you talk — when you think about gun violence being an epidemic in this country.
Those are the things that he wants to focus on. Those are the things that he wants to — that he wants to make sure that the American people understand what we’re doing to deal with those critical issues.
As it relates to his age, he makes jokes about it. He does. You hear him make jokes about it all the time. He gets it. He gets it.
But he also wants to make sure that we are talking about the issues that — and I talked about this starting almost –starting this — the briefing here, is what people really care about when they are sitting around their kitchen table. And that matters. We believe that matters as well.
Go ahead, Francesca.
Q Thanks, Karine. Picking up on Tyler’s line of questioning. Why wasn’t there a two-and-two today with the German Chancellor?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, we always find different ways to — to engage with the press when we do these — when we do these types of bilats. There are many things that come into consideration. And with this trip, there was no two-plus-two. You’re going to see — obviously, you’re — there’s going to be — some of your colleagues are going to be part of the — of the pool spray in a couple of minutes — not too long from now. And so, you’ll — you know, you’ll have an opportunity to see the two of them.
Look, every visit is different. And they’re different for different reasons. It’s not just us. We have conversations with — with other countries that the leader — obviously, the leader of the team of the other country. I just — this just happens to not have a two-plus-two, but that’s not always the case.
Q And, yesterday, when you made light of the President’s verbal flubs, had you been briefed on the special counsel report or —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No.
Q — or seen it at all?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, not at all.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And what do you mean when I “made light of the President’s verbal flubs”?
Q Well, you made some jokes in response to questions about the President confusing world leaders with deceased world leaders. And —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I — what I did was I — I tried to state very clearly that — and yes, I did it in a light way, because it does happen to many people. And I actually talked about one of your colleagues that I do it to all the time.
And so, look, I — you know, I just want to be very clear: You know, this is a — this is a president that is very much focused on the American people. He is very much focused on making sure what he was elected to do gets done. What he has — the promises that he’s made to communities across the country gets kept. So, I just want to make sure that is made also very clear.
Q And finally, in response to the special counsel report, one of the President’s Republican presidential rivals, Nikki Haley, has called for a mental competency test for the President. Is that something that the White House is actively considering as a way to try and put to rest some of these allegations about his memory lapses?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, I’m not a medical doctor. So, certainly, I’m not going to stand here and make — opine on — on tests or anything of that nature.
What I can say is that — and I remember talking to — I remember talking to the President’s doctor last year, when I was asked about a cogniti- — cognitive test when the President’s — when the President’s physical came out. And he said to me — and I’m — I’m paraphrasing, because this was over a year ago at this point — that because of the President’s actions every day, what he deals with with world leaders, the domestic issues that — that he has to — he has to deal with, he believes that that shows — right? — that shows that the President is very much active and understands what’s going on — right? — and didn’t believe that — didn’t believe that a test like that was warranted because of just who he is as President of the United States and everything that he has to deal with.
But, again, I’m not a medical doctor. We — the President is going to continue to be, obviously, transparent when it comes to his physical. We were over the last two years. We’ll have — he’ll have one this year, and when we’re — when we — the time permits, obviously — or when the time comes, we’ll certainly share that.
Go ahead, Weijia.
Q Thank you, Karine. Last night, soon after the President’s remarks about Israel, the administration announced a national security memo that calls for the State Department to obtain written assurances that countries that receive weapons from the U.S. will use those weapons in accordance with the law of war.
Jake Sullivan, Kirby, others have previously said that the U.S. already requires those assurances, so why did the administration feel the need to formalize that and ask for it in writing now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look — so, this memor- — memorandum that you’re speaking of — and it merged, in part, with our discussions with members of Congress. And so, this, obviously, memo came out yesterday. And so, it’s called a national security memorandum. It outlines the standards and coun- — that countries must adhere, as you just laid it — as you just laid out.
But I also want to be clear: There are new — there are no new standards in this memo. We are not imposing new standards for military aid. That’s not what is in this memo. Instead, we are spelling out publicly the existing standards by the international law, including the law of armed conflict.
So, we are also — one thing that we are doing is creating a new annual report to Congress that members have requested. This is in request, because of interest of transparency. So, this is in line with conversations that we have with — with the congressional members, as we try to really, you know, work together in a way that — that makes sense and moves the ball forward.
But this is not new standards. This is — this is something — these are — these are — these are things that already exist — to your point — that is now in writing. And then, there — and we did create a new annual report for more transparency.
Q So, if Israel doesn’t sign off within the deadline of 45 days, because it is involved with active conflict, will the U.S. aid be cut off immediately?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, what I can tell you is that we did brief the Israelis on this. They reiterated their willingness to provide these types of assurances. So, those conversations are happening, and they — obviously, they reiterated their willingness to — for these assurances.
Q Thank you.
AIDE: Karine — Karine, you’ve got time for one more.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: One more.
Q Thank you, Karine. If the special counsel says President Biden has got “significant limitations” on his memory, then who is helping him run the country?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The President of the United States runs the country. The Commander-in-Chief runs the country.
Q How can he be trusted with the nuclear codes if — I get that you’re saying that nobody in the building would say that he’s got an issue with his memory. But just the little part of what we get to see, he has made mistake after mistake after mistake after mistake on camera this week.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, I’m going to be very clear here. The reality is that report — that part of the report does not live in reality. It just doesn’t.
Q So, the special counsel is —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It is — it — it is —
Q — lying about the President’s memory?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It is — it is — it was gratuitous. You heard from my — you heard from Ian Sams, my colleague. It is unacceptable. And it does not live in reality. That is just the facts.
And — and, look, it is a closed case. That is what the special counsel said. And what matters is — here is that the President, in the last three years, has delivered on the economy, has delivered on healthcare, has turned this country around after the last president left us with an economy that was in a tailspin. That’s what we were dealing with. That’s what we were dealing with.
If you think about the world leaders — world leads — and issues that have been going on in this country for the past two, three years — not even in this country, in the world. Right? When you think about Ukraine, the President was able to bring together NATO — NATO Allies — they have been the strongest that they’ve ever been — and make sure that we are providing what Ukraine — the brave people of Ukraine need as they’re fighting aggression — Putin’s aggression.
And that is what this President has — has been able to do. His — his experience as former senator, as former vice president, and now a president has gotten us to a place where we’ve been able to turn things around in a way that we meet the needs of the American people, whether it’s domestic issues or national security issues, and that is what matters.
Q And —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That re- — part of the report does not live in reality.
Bye, everybody. Have a great weekend.
2:51 P.M. EST
Official news published at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2024/02/09/press-briefing-by-press-secretary-karine-jean-pierre-and-spokesman-for-the-white-house-counsels-office-ian-sams-february-9-2024/