Jen Psaki’s press conference last Friday illustrated how she, and by extension, her boss, the president, have continued to destroy their credibility with the American people. The White House press secretary showed once again that the administration has misled us even about small things since the very beginning. And if they will lie to us about small things, then they will lie about big things.
In common law, there is an expression, “Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.” It means “false in one thing, false in everything.” It is a principle judges have used for centuries to instruct juries on how to evaluate the truthfulness of witnesses’ testimony.
Psaki’s performance on Friday provided another example of that maxim. With no visible trace of irony or self-awareness, she attempted to pass off a blatant evasion as a responsive and truthful answer. It illustrated why we cannot believe anything this president or his administration says.
On Friday, a reporter from The New York Post asked Psaki why anyone should believe her and the administration about big things when they don’t tell the truth about small things. He illustrated his point by asking about a misleading briefing Psaki gave on March 9, on a relatively insignificant matter.
Then, less than two months into the administration, Psaki responded to a question about an incident when the president’s younger dog, Major, had bitten a Secret Service agent. At that March 9 briefing, Psaki misleadingly glossed over the incident as a minor matter caused by the fact that the dogs were still getting acclimated to the White House. She identified only a single bite one day earlier, saying that “on Monday” (the previous day), Major had been “surprised by an unfamiliar person and reacted in a way that resulted in a minor injury” (minute 32).
She further represented that Major’s relocation to Delaware took place only because Jill Biden would be traveling, and it was “preplanned” that family friends would care for him during her absence. It had nothing to do with the biting. No big deal, right?
Anyone can understand a young dog reacting that way to new surroundings and new people. But we now know that her explanation was a lie. It was also a preplanned lie: As the question was being asked, Psaki flipped through the pages of her briefing book to find the right pages before beginning her answer. Then, instead of just being truthful about this minor matter, we now know that this senior presidential assistant consciously went into full cover-up mode. Over a dog bite!
The lie was revealed last Thursday when the administration was forced to release documents in a suit by Judicial Watch. The newly released documents show Major’s “challenges adjusting to life in the White House” were not limited to a single incident, as Psaki had portrayed.
Rather, he bit Secret Service agents or White House visitors every day for eight days between March 1 and March 8. Nor was the biting limited to the White House, which was part of the explanation given by Psaki, as at least one biting occurred at the Biden lake house in Delaware.
Although the true story shows an incident not quite as benign as Psaki had portrayed, it still was not an earth-shattering event that required the president and his senior aides to dissemble about it. But dissemble is exactly what Psaki did.
In last Friday’s press conference, the Post reporter pointed out the obvious discrepancies between Psaki’s representations on March 9 and the facts now known from the document release. Those clearly indicate Major was exiled to Delaware because of repeated attacks on Secret Service agents and a White House visitor, rather than the benign explanation the administration previously gave.
The reporter noted this was “not the world’s most important story,” but asked for an explanation of “why there was a misleading account presented to us.” He closed with a question that went right to the heart of whether any of us can believe anything the administration says: “If we can’t get honest information about the minor stories, why should we have faith in the administration’s account for larger issues like Afghanistan?” (minute 35:31).
Facing that question that went directly to her–and the administration’s–credibility, Psaki reinforced their lack of credibility. She did not even attempt to deny that her prior account was misleading. Instead, her answer combined evasion with snark: “I know you do keep the dog in the news in the briefing room, so thank you for that.” No one laughed.
Psaki then pretended the question was about the dog’s whereabouts, giving a total non-response about Major’s additional training and that he now spends more time in Delaware. She concluded with more misleading evasion and snark: “That speaks to where Major is located [which was not the question, of course], to be fully transparent in your ongoing interest in the dog.”
There are at least two takeaways from this episode. The first is that even when confronted with facts showing a lack of credibility, the strategy of this administration and president is to double down on their cover-up and refuse to come clean.
If Psaki had just told the truth about the incidents, they still would have been a minor, one-day postscript to any news story. But the lies appear to have been instinctive, baked into this administration’s approach to anything that could possibly reflect badly upon them, however minor it might be. Even when caught, they stubbornly cling to their strategy of misleading us.
The second takeaway is that we cannot assume that anything this administration tells us is true. Like the proverbial broken clock that is right twice a day, some of what they say is no doubt true, but we cannot know what is true and what is false.
As Aesop teaches, “A liar will not be believed even when he speaks the truth.” If the administration was concerned about preserving credibility with allies, adversaries, and the American people, then it would have absorbed this truth. But this administration obviously has not.
Given the president’s willingness to mislead us about a dog bite, why should we believe him when he tells us that the evacuation in Afghanistan is going according to plan, that the senior generals unanimously supported abandoning Bagram Airfield, and that the resulting disaster was just baked into the plan? Can we possibly believe the president when he tells us that all none of our foreign allies have criticized his conduct of the evacuation?
Why should we believe the president when he tells us he can sufficiently protect our homeland with over-the-horizon drone strikes? That our southern border is secure? That al-Qaeda is not a threat to our homeland? That ISIS-K operatives have not and will not be able to infiltrate our country through a porous border? That Democrats’ multi-trillion-dollar spending will cure all our economic ills? That climate change and “white nationalist” domestic terrorists are the greatest threats to our national security?
When he tells us the only Americans left in Afghanistan are those who want to stay, are we to believe that?
When the president allows his key advisors lie to us about a dog bite, the only confidence the American people can have is that he will not be honest with us about these and other life-and-death matters if the truth would hurt his poll numbers or endanger Democrats’ reelection chances.
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