President Joe Biden, left, speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks at a media briefing in the White House in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. (Nicholas Kamm – AFP / Getty Images)
By Randy DeSoto March 18, 2022 at 2:05pm
White House press secretary Jen Psaki gave a rather disconcerting answer when asked why President Joe Biden had suddenly decided to call Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal.
After Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Congress on Wednesday via video, Biden announced new U.S. military assistance that would be going to the besieged nation.
Following his announcement, Fox News White House correspondent Jacqui Heinrich asked Biden if Putin is a war criminal, given everything the president has seen. Zelenskyy’s presentation to Congress had included a powerful video highlighting the devastation of the war.
Biden first responded, “No.”
He then continued making his way through the room, but soon thereafter returned to the journalist, asked for clarification and answered, “Oh, I think he is a war criminal.”
Video: Biden is asked after a White House event whether Putin’s a war criminal. He initially says, “no,” but then leaves, turns around to come back, has @JacquiHeinrich ask the question again.
This time? He says, “I think he is a war criminal.” pic.twitter.com/OwnLaZU3Gs
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) March 16, 2022
Later in the day, Psaki was asked during a news briefing what accounted for the change. The administration had previously said only that Putin was under investigation for potential war crimes.
Psaki replied that it was the news coverage Biden watched on TV that informed his answer.
“The president’s remarks speak for themselves,” she said. “He was speaking from his heart and speaking from what he’s seen on television, which is barbaric actions by a brutal dictator through his invasion of a foreign country.”
.@PressSec Jen Psaki on President Biden calling Putin a war criminal: “He was speaking from his heart.” pic.twitter.com/kLX9MgnGiB
— CSPAN (@cspan) March 16, 2022
“There is a legal process that continues to … be underway at the State Department. That’s a process that they would have any updates on,” the press secretary said.
Later in the briefing, a reporter circled back to the issue, noting that Biden had declined to call Putin a war criminal during the first three weeks of the conflict.
“As you note, there is an ongoing … formal process before you can use this term. So something must have changed for the president to feel like he can take this additional step today. What? What else is he seeing?” she asked.
Psaki again referenced media coverage of the invasion.
“The president was answering a direct question that was asked and responding to what he has seen on television,” she said.
“We have all seen barbaric acts, horrific acts by a foreign dictator in a country that is threatening and taking the lives of civilians, impacting hospitals, women who are pregnant, journalists, others,” Psaki continued. “I think he was answering a direct question.”
“The President was answering a direct question that was asked and responding to what he has seen on television.”
Jen Psaki responds to President Joe Biden labelling Vladimir Putin a war criminal. https://t.co/1ysDSHOHCR pic.twitter.com/0Y0H1vC2XG
— Newsmax (@newsmax) March 16, 2022
Biden likely isn’t watching Fox News, so our foreign policy is being informed by what commentators on MSNBC and CNN are saying? God help us.
Doesn’t the commander in chief have a multibillion-dollar intelligence apparatus to provide him with the most accurate information available?
Conservative commentator Ed Morrissey offered an interesting theory as to why Psaki walked back Biden’s remarks about Putin, and it centers on Iran.
Moscow responded forcefully Wednesday to Biden’s war criminal characterization, calling it “unacceptable and unforgivable” rhetoric, the BBC reported.
Morrissey wrote that Psaki’s official “walk-back at the White House of it being just Biden’s personal view looks like a retreat in the face of Russian complaints. And that might be precisely what it is, because Biden’s still relying on Russia to accommodate Biden’s desperate ambition to re-enter the Iran [nuclear] deal.”
Russia is playing a central role in the talks currently underway in Vienna.
Do you approve of Biden’s handling of the Ukraine war?
“Rather than recognize the insanity of that foreign policy, Biden and his White House have decided that it makes more sense to accommodate Putin and walk back the obvious,” Morrissey wrote.
We already went through all of this during the Obama administration, with the U.S. bending over backward to accommodate Russia and Iran. Both interpreted America’s conduct as weakness and pressed forward with their mal-behavior, including Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014 and Iran’s ongoing support of terrorism.
You would think that Biden and his team — primarily made up of Obama alums like Psaki — would have learned their lesson, but apparently they have not.