In the second half of 2023, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre answered only two questions about the scandals facing the President Joe Biden. That brings the yearly total to a paltry eight such questions that Ms. Jean-Pierre answered across 75 White House briefings.
MRC analysts examined official White House transcripts of every briefing Jean-Pierre conducted in 2023, recording every question she was asked about one of three major scandals faced by President Biden — his alleged mishandling of classified documents as Vice President, the corruption allegations against the Biden family, and the mysterious bag of cocaine found in the West Wing.
Of the 337 scandal-related questions that White House reporters asked, Jean-Pierre provided a definitive answer to just eight of them (2.37 percent). This figure tracks very closely with our findings from the first half of 2023, in which the Press Secretary answered only six out of 252 questions (2.38 percent).
Watch the compilation below for a sampling of how Jean-Pierre usually dealt with these uncomfortable questions about her boss:
Reporters Found Mishandled Documents Most Interesting
While there were only three new questions about the President’s alleged mishandling of classified documents in the second half of 2023, this category still received by far the most attention from reporters. There were a total of 220 questions about this scandal, of which the Press Secretary concretely answered five all year (2.27 percent).
By contrast, the number of questions about Biden family corruption doubled during the same period, from 35 by the end of June to 52 all year. Of those 87 questions, only three (3.44 percent) got substantive answers.
White House Stonewalled on Cocaine
The baggie of cocaine found in the West Wing on the evening of July 2 was the sole focus of scandal-related questions for the first half of that month. Reporters asked a total of 30 questions about the cocaine across five briefings from July 5 to July 17. During that time, Ms. Jean-Pierre would not give a concrete response to a single question.
Corruption Questions Were Only Answered With Denials of Guilt
Although Jean-Pierre generally remained resolute in her refusal to engage with reporters about anything even remotely related to the Biden family’s financial dealings, there were a few rare exceptions. All three questions about this topic that she answered were those which provided her with an opportunity to assert the President’s innocence.
Below are the three exchanges that resulted in a meaningful answer from the Press Secretary:
JACQUI HEINRICH (FNC): Senator Chuck Grassley made some statements yesterday on the Senate floor, saying that this foreign national on the FBI 1023 form apparently has 15 recorded conversations with Hunter Biden and claims to have two with the President. Is there — is the White House aware of any recordings in which the President might be on tape speaking to a Burisma executive?
JEAN-PIERRE: So the President spoke to this. I think he was shouted a question about this at the Thursday press conference. I’m just going to quote him and say, “It’s malarkey.”
BRIAN KAREM (Salon): Can you state categorically that the administration has neither sought nor received favorable treatment from the DOJ for any investigation into the President, members of the administration, his family, or former President Donald Trump?
JEAN-PIERRE: Absolutely not. The Department of Justice is independent. The President respects the rule of law. He has been saying that since he was — before president. And that will remain the case.
NANCY CORDES (CBS): You just brought up the lack of a vote. Does the White House view this impeachment inquiry as legitimate, given that there has not been a vote to open it?
JEAN-PIERRE: So, Nancy, I appreciate the question, but I actually — from what I just laid out, Republicans have been — made it pretty clear just how illegitimate this is. They’ve made that very clear. This is a — this is an entire exercise of how to do this in an illegitimate way.
For all the criticism leveled at Ms. Jean-Pierre, one could argue she has been a rather effective bulwark for the White House. Assuming her job was to be as opaque as possible — as it seems to have been — to shield the inner workings of the Biden administration from the public eye, then 2023 was a wildly successful year for her.
Click “expand” to read the methodology:
Analysts counted every question (labeled “Q “ in official transcripts) that pertained either to President Biden’s handling of classified information, or to anything involving the appearance of corruption in the Biden family’s financial dealings. Follow-up inquiries that only reiterated the initial question were not counted a second time. For longer exchanges involving a line of questioning, only the first instance of each new inquiry was counted.
A response was only considered an actual answer if the Press Secretary: (1) directly addressed the question that was being asked, (2) either clarified an ambiguity or provided new information, and (3) in the case of a yes-or-no question, at least implied one of those two options.
Responses in which the Press Secretary merely redirected the question to White House Counsel or some Executive Branch agency were not considered answers. However, a response that later turned out to be false could still be considered an answer as long as there was no indication that the Press Secretary knew at the time that the information she was providing was incorrect. Below are two examples of responses that were not counted as answers:
Q: As far as you know, is it ever okay for classified documents to be mixed with personal effects?
A: We take this very seriously. The President takes a classified information, classified documents very seriously.
In this case, the Press Secretary did not directly address the topic of the question. If the question had been whether toe President took classified information seriously, this would have counted, because despite not including a definitive “yes,” it strongly implied an affirmative answer.
Q: So why didn’t you fully describe the documents when you were first asked this week?
A: And — and I’ll refer you back to my comments that I made just yesterday.
In this case the Press Secretary’s previous comments had not met the criteria for an answer, and thus referencing those comments also could not constitute an answer.