Jen Psaki sighs as Fox reporter asks why Biden suggested Kyle Rittenhouse was a ‘white supremacist’

Kyle Rittenhouse’s mother accused President Joe Biden of ‘defaming’ her son after he posted a video online during his campaign trail including a clip of Kenosha shooter Kyle Rittenhouse with an AR-15 and

Rachel Sharp
Tuesday 16 November 2021 16:26 GMT
Jen Psaki sighs when questioned about Joe Biden's comments on Kyle Rittenhouse
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White House press secretary Jen Psaki was heard loudly sighing at a Fox News journalist when he asked why President Joe Biden once suggested Kyle Rittenhouse was a “white supremacist”.

Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy questioned Ms Psaki about the president’s past comments during the White House press briefing on Monday.

In September 2020, as the race for the White House heated up, Mr Biden posted a video on social media which included a clip of Mr Rittenhouse carrying the AR-15 he used to shoot dead two men and wound a third during a night of unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, one month earlier.

“There’s no other way to put it: the President of the United States refused to disavow white supremacists on the debate stage last night,” Mr Biden tweeted alongside the video, in reference to his opponent Donald Trump who had refused to condemn white supremacists during a presidential debate.

Last week, Mr Rittenhouse’s mother accused the president of defaming her son and said she was “in shock” and was “angry” at his comments.

“He is not a white supremacist. He is not a racist,” Wendy Rittenhouse said of her son in an interview with Fox News.

“I was in shock. I was angry. President Biden don’t know my son, whatsoever,” she said, adding that she felt Mr Biden “did that for the votes”.

"Why did President Biden suggest that Kyle Rittenhouse, on trial in Kenosha, is a white supremacist?" Mr Doocy asked the press secretary in Monday’s briefing.

Ms Psaki paused and could be heard letting out a deep sigh before saying that she would not comment on an ongoing trial but that the president is against “vigilantes patrolling our communities with assault weapons”.

"So, Peter, what I’m not going to speak to right now is anything about an ongoing trial, nor the president’s past comments," she said.

"What I can reiterate for you is the president’s view that we shouldn’t have, broadly speaking, vigilantes patrolling our communities with assault weapons.”

“We shouldn’t have opportunists corrupting peaceful protests by rioting and burning down the communities they claim to represent anywhere in the country."

She added: “As you know, closing arguments in this particular case which I’m not speaking to I’m just making broad comments about his own view.

“There’s an ongoing trial. We are awaiting a verdict. Beyond that, I’m not going to speak to any individuals or this case.”

Kyle Rittenhouse is on trial for killing two men and wounding a third during a racial justice protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020
Kyle Rittenhouse is on trial for killing two men and wounding a third during a racial justice protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020 (Getty Images)

Mr Doocy continued to push the matter, saying that the president “has spoken to it already” and questioning whether he did make his comments to win votes as Ms Rittenhouse claimed.

Ms Psaki doubled down that she would not be drawn on an ongoing case but that the president is committed “to turn down the temperature on the angry, divisive rhetoric and actions” seen during the Trump administration.

"I just have nothing more to speak to an ongoing case where the closing arguments were just made," she said.

"President Biden ran on a promise to bring Americans together and to turn down the temperature on the angry, divisive rhetoric and actions we saw over the past four years.

"We’re here to provide support. And obviously we’re going to wait for any verdict to come out. And beyond that, certainly we are hopeful that any protests will be peaceful."

The judge in Mr Rittenhouse’s homicide trial has told the jury they must ignore the opinions of both Mr Biden and his predecessor Mr Trump.

“You will pay no heed to the opinions of anyone, even the president of the United States, or the president before him,” Judge Bruce Schroeder said on Monday.

Mr Biden and Mr Trump took opposing stances on the case during the presidential race last year.

Mr Trump claimed that Mr Rittenhouse – an avid supporter of the then-president – appeared to have acted in self-defence and “was trying to get away” from the men he shot.

Mr Rittenhouse, a white 18-year-old, is currently on trial for killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz on 25 August 2020 during protests over the police shooting of black man Jacob Blake.

He claims he was acting in self-defence when he shot the three men with an AR-15 while the prosecution claims he was the threat after arming himself with the firearm and traveling from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha that night.

Jurors began deliberations on Tuesday after the prosecution and defence both gave closing arguments the day before.

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