Jen Psaki was born on December 1, 1978. In 2000 she graduated from the College of William and Mary with a BA degree in English and Literature. After completing her education, Psaki worked on the 2002 re-election campaigns of two Iowa Democrats — Governor Tom Vilsak and U.S. Senator Tom Harkin. She subsequently served as communications director for Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY), and then as deputy press secretary for John Kerry‘s 2004 presidential run. In the 2006 election cycle, Psaki worked as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s press secretary for the Midwest and Northeast regions. In 2007 she was appointed as deputy press secretary for Barack Obama‘s 2008 presidential bid, and she was subsequently promoted to the position of traveling press secretary. Psaki then served in the Obama White House from 2009-11 — initially as the President’s deputy assistant, and then as his deputy communications director.
Psaki was the senior vice president and managing director of the Global Strategy Group, a Washington-based public-relations firm, from October 2011 to June 2012. She worked as a traveling press secretary and senior adviser with Obama For America, the predecessor to Organizing For America and Organizing For Action, from July through November of 2012. She was a spokesperson for President Obama’s U.S. State Department from February 2013 through March 2015. And she served as White House communications director from April 2015 until the end of the Obama administration in January 2017.
In 2014 Psaki posed for a photo where she was hugging Russian ambassador Sergey Lavrov and Russian spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, while wearing a pink hat adorned with a hammer-and-sickle. Meant to represent proletarian solidarity between the peasantry and working-class, the symbol was first adapted during the Russian Revolution. Psaki said the hat was a gift from the Russians.
In February 2017, Psaki joined CNN as a contributor and political commentator.
Three months later, she joined former Secretary of State John Kerry as an advisory council member of Diplomacy Works (DW), a newly formed organization dedicated to defending the Iran nuclear deal against any changes which the Trump administration might be inclined to make to the accord. Other notable members of DW’s advisory council included former Obama administration members like Robert Malley, Jon Finer, Antony Blinken, Michele Flournoy, Wendy Sherman, Puneet Talwar, Jeff Prescott, and Colin Kahl.
In September 2017, Psaki became a senior advisor with WestExec Advisors, a strategic advisory firm for business leaders. That same month, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace hired her as its vice president for communications strategy.
To view a series of synopses of how Psaki handled various noteworthy situations during her tenure with the Obama administration, see Footnote #1, below.
In August 2020, Psaki tweeted an anti-gay slur against Republican Senator Lindsey Graham: “Only in 2020 does #LadyG get to push a bunch of debunked conspiracy theories while questioning @SallyQYates (aka an American hero).” (The reference to “Lady G” referred to rumors that had circulated on social media regarding Graham’s sexuality; Sally Yates had served as Deputy Attorney General under President Barack Obama.)
In the aftermath of violent riots by Antifa radicals in Portland and Seattle on the night of January 20, 2021 — Joe Biden’s first night as president — Psaki elected not to condemn the violence when a reporter asked her about it. Said the reporter: “On domestic unrest: First of all, does the president have any comment on the ongoing violence in Oregon and Washington State?” Psaki replied: “Well, certainly we had our team on the ground, our national security team, even before 12:01, early in the morning on Inauguration Day because we wanted to be able to monitor events happening across the country and any unrest that was resulting from the last couple of weeks. I haven’t spoke with him [Biden] specifically about those events, but it is something out national security team, Liz Sherwood-Randall, is closely monitoring of course, but if we have an additional update I’m happy to provide it to you.”
Throughout her early weeks as press secretary, Psaki became known for the frequency with which claimed not to know the answers to reporters’ questions and, consequently, told them that she would have to “circle back” to the substance of their questions at a later time.
At a January 25, 2021 press conference, President Biden — who on February 1, 2020 had characterized President Trump’s COVID-related travel restrictions against China as evidence of Trump’s “hysterical xenophobia” — reinstated COVID travel restrictions (which Trump had recently lifted) on non-U.S. citizens who had recently been in Brazil, Ireland, the United Kingdom, much of Europe, and South Africa. After Biden’s announcement, Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy asked Psaki: “When President Trump was imposing travel restrictions in March [sic] specifically on China, then-candidate Biden called it ‘xenophobic’ and ‘fear-mongering.’ So now President Biden is putting travel restrictions on people coming in from other countries. What words would you use to describe that?” Psaki replied:
“I don’t think that’s quite a fair articulation. The president has been clear that he felt the ‘Muslim ban’ was xenophobic. He overturned the ‘Muslim ban.’ He also, though, has supported — and he himself, even before, or we did, I should say, even before he was inaugurated, steps, travel restrictions, in order to keep the American people safe to ensure that we are getting the pandemic under control. That’s been part of his policy. But he was critical of the former president for having a policy that was not more comprehensive than travel restrictions. And he conveyed at the time, and more recently, the importance of having a multifaceted approach … not just travel restrictions.”
At that same January 25 press conference, Psaki, as she had done in previous briefings, went maskless while fielding questions from reporters — despite the Biden administration’s “100 Days Masking Challenge” that asked people to wear face masks for 100 days to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, coupled with a Biden executive order requiring masks and social distancing in all federal buildings by all federal employees and contractors.
During a February 2, 2021 press conference, Psaki mocked the newest branch of the American military, known as Space Force, which had been initiated in December 2019 by President Trump. A reporter asked her: “Has the president [Biden] made a decision on keeping, or keeping the scope of, Space Force?” Making it clear that neither she nor the Biden administration viewed the matter as an important one, a smiling Psaki replied with a look of surprise and amusement: “Wow, Space Force! It’s the plane of today!” She then continued: “It is an interesting question. I’m happy to check with our Space Force point of contact, I’m not sure who that is, I will find out, to see if we have any update on that.” (Click here for video.)
On February 10, 2021, a reporter asked Psaki to characterize President Biden’s view of the recent decision by Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, to dispense with the playing of the pre-game national anthem at his team’s home games — a move that was made in the same spirit that had led many NBA players to kneel during the anthem as a gesture of protest against racism and police brutality. Psaki replied:
“I know he’s [Biden is] incredibly proud to be an American and has great respect for the anthem and all that it represents, especially for our men and women serving in uniform around the world. He’d also say that, of course, that part of pride in our country means recognizing moments where we as a country haven’t lived up to our highest ideals, which is often and at times what people are speaking to when they take action at sporting events. And it means respecting the right people granted to them in the Constitution to peacefully protest. That’s why he ran for president in the first place, and that’s what he’s focused on doing every day.”
On February 17, 2021, a reporter asked Psaki whether President Biden would sign legislation authorizing reparations for slavery “if it came to his desk.” Psaki replied:
“Well, he’s supported a study of reparations, which is I believe is what’s being discussed, and studying the continuing impacts of slavery, which is being discussed in this hearing on H.R. 40, I believe it is. And he continues to demonstrate his commitment to take comprehensive action to address the systemic racism that persists today…. But he certainly would support a study of reparations….”
In an October 2014 interview on Fox News, host Megyn Kelly confronted Psaki with evidence that former President Barack Obama had not been truthful in asserting, recently, that he had been left with no choice but to pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq in 2011, and to do so without first securing a Status-Of-Forces Agreement stipulating that at least some troops would be left behind in order to maintain stability in the country and to preserve America’s military victory.
Specifically, Kelly played a video of Obama stating that “the reason that we did not have a follow on force in Iraq was because … a majority of Iraqis did not want U.S. troops there,” which, by Obama’s telling, meant that Iraqi leaders “politically … could not pass the kind of laws that would be required to [give our troops immunity from legal prosecutions] in Iraq.” To make the case that Obama was lying:
* Kelly noted that: (a) Obama’s recent statement contradicted his 2012 assertion that “what I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down” and “certainly would not help us in the Middle East.”
* Kelly pointed out that Obama’s former Defense Secretary and CIA Director, Leon Panetta, had written in his new book, Worthy Fights, that while he and others in the Obama administration were objecting in 2011 to a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops — lest Iraq “become a new haven for terrorists to plot attacks against the United States” – Obama’s “team at the White House pushed back, and … those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.”
* Kelly noted that Panetta’s assessment regarding troop withdrawal from Iraq was echoed by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and a number of military generals, with the Pentagon recommending a residual force of some 24,000 troops ideally — and certainly no fewer than 10,000. But Obama, Kelly explained, was unwilling to leave any more than 5,000 troops in Iraq. And the prospect of such a small residual force left Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with no choice but to refuse, because, as Kelly put it, he “couldn’t take the political risk of going back to his country and saying, ‘Hey, give them immunity, they’re going to give us 5,000 troops’” — a force too small to offer any significant guarantee of future security.
In response to the facts that Kelly presented, Psaki said, without evidence: “Megyn, the facts just don’t align with that…. We could not force Iraq, a sovereign government, to accept a [U.S.] presence there…. [E]ven if we had had a presence there, had a residual force there, that would not have prevented and changed the facts that we’ve seen [i.e., the rapid rise and expansion of the terrorist organization ISIS] over the last eight months….”
Further Reading: “Megyn Kelly Rips State Department’s Psaki With Panetta’s Claim That Obama Wanted Out of Iraq” (Newsbusters.org, 10-4-2014); “Jen Psaki Debates Megyn Kelly on Panetta’s Criticism of Obama’s Iraq Policy” (Fox News, 10-3-2014); “Megyn Kelly Rips State Department’s Psaki with Panetta’s Claim That Obama Wanted Out of Iraq” (Newsbusters, 10-4-2014).
Regarding Syria and President Obama’s “Red Line”
In August 2012, President Barack Obama announced that if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were to use chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war, he would be crossing a “red line” that would likely trigger a military response by the United States. But exactly a year later — on August 21, 2013 — Assad did in fact breach that “red line” when he launched a massive chemical-weapons attack that killed more than 1,300 people and injured several thousand others. On August 30, 2013, Secretary Kerry, on behalf of President Obama, delivered a passionate speech in support of a significant U.S. military response to the “moral obscenity” Syria had committed. In that address, Kerry characterized Assad as “a thug and a murderer,” and stated that “history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency.” Less than a day later, however, Obama announced that he had decided to refrain from authorizing any military action without first obtaining approval from Congress. Psaki defended Obama’s decision as “courageous,” adding that both “the president and the secretary strongly agreed that when the administration and the people’s representatives stand together, that that strengthens our case and makes our case even stronger internationally.”
Further Reading: “Reported Chemical Weapons Attack Could Kill Obama’s Syria Strategy” (Daily Beast, 8-21-2013); “How We Got Here: A Timeline Of The Syria Chemical Weapons Saga” (ThinkProgress.org, 8-28-2013); “The White House Walk-and-Talk That Changed Obama’s Mind on Syria” (NBC News, 8-31-2013); “AP’s Matt Lee Shows Some Spine Challenging WH on Syria” (Newsbusters.org, 9-6-2013).
Regarding the Overthrow of Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi
During her tenure as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton played a major role in the Obama administration’s decision to use military force to drive President Muammar Qaddafi from power in Libya by having the U.S. lead a protracted NATO bombing campaign against Qaddafi in 2011 — a campaign that lent support to opposition rebels consisting of ISIS, Ansar al-Sharia, and other local militant groups. Notably, Qaddafi at that time no longer posed any threat to American national security. Indeed, just prior to the anti-Qaddafi uprising that Clinton and Obama supported, Libya was providing the U.S. with important intelligence data. Moreover, it was a prospering, secular Islamic nation. By the time the Obama-Clinton bombing campaign was finished and Qaddafi had been driven from power, Libya’s economy had shrunk by 42%. According to Foreign Policy In Focus, the Obama-Clinton strategy “plunged” Libya “into chaotic unrest” and “turned [it] into a cauldron of anarchy” where jihadism was running amuck and ISIS was gaining an increasingly secure foothold. Yet in December 2013, Psaki said that the U.S. valued its relationship with “the new Libya,” adding that “we have a strategic partnership based on shared interests and our strong support for Libya’s historic democratic transition.”
Further Reading: “Regarding the Overthrow of Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi” (RT.com, 3-3-2016); “Hillary’s Huge Libya Disaster” (The National Interest, 6-15-2016); “Four Years After Gaddafi, Libya Is a Failed State” (Foreign Policy in Focus, 4-6-2016); “U.S. Military Personnel Released after Being Held by Libya Government” (Chicago Tribune, 12-28-2013).
Regarding the Benghazi Terrorist Attacks and Political Scandal
On the night of September 11, 2012, a U.S. diplomatic mission and a nearby CIA annex in Benghazi, Libya were infamously attacked by a large group of heavily armed Islamic terrorists with ties to such jihadist organizations as al Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia. By the time the violence was over, four Americans were dead. In the aftermath of the attacks in Benghazi, the Obama administration persistently and falsely characterized them not as acts of terrorism, but rather, as spontaneous, unplanned uprisings that had evolved from what began as a low-level protest against an obscure YouTube video that disparaged Muslims and the Prophet Mohammed.
At a State Department briefing in the fall of 2013, Fox News producer Lucas Tomlinson asked Psaki why two of the (known) chief suspects in the Benghazi violence — both of whom had longstanding ties to al Qaeda — had never yet been listed on the Department’s “Rewards for Justice” program, which offered money in exchange for information leading to the apprehension of terrorists. Psaki replied: “I will say, you know, the question has always been who, exactly, the attackers were, what their motivations were and how … the attack evolved. We’ve always said that there were extremists that we felt were involved. There’s an ongoing criminal investigation, as you are very familiar with, that you just referred to, so I’d refer other questions to them.” In a follow-up question, Psaki was asked: “When you call them ‘extremists,’ will you not say ‘al Qaeda’ from that podium?” She replied, “It’s an ongoing FBI investigation.”
Contrary to Psaki’s claim that the identities, motives, and terrorist affiliations of the Benghazi attackers could not be ascertained with certainty, a number of media reports by such notables as Lara Logan, Catherine Herridge, and The Weekly Standard had already established conclusively that a number of the perpetrators were intimately linked to al Qaeda. Some examples:
* Muhammad Jamal: This Egyptian had long served as a subordinate to Ayman al-Zawahiri, a top lieutenant of the late Osama bin Laden. The State Department was well aware that Jamal had cultivated relationships with al Qaeda “senior leadership” as well as with al Qaeda affiliate groups in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic Maghreb. Moreover, Jamal was known to have trained some of the individuals who took part in the Benghazi attacks.
* Faraj al Chalabi: This former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden fled Libya for Pakistan soon after the 9/11/12 attacks against the U.S. mission in Benghazi. He was also suspected of delivering sensitive materials from the American compound in Benghazi to al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan.
* Sufian Ben Qumu: A Libyan who was once imprisoned at the Guantánamo Bay detention center, Qumu trained some of the jihadists who carried out the 9/11/12 attacks in Benghazi. A known associate of Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders, Qumu in the 1980s traveled to Afghanistan to wage jihad against the Soviets. He also became the leader of Ansar al-Sharia in Derna, Libya, and he trained some of the rebels who helped remove Muammar Qaddafi from power in 2011.
* Mokhtar Belmokhtar: On the night of the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, this longtime al Qaeda commander received a congratulatory phone call from members of Ansar al-Sharia in Libya. He also served as a leading commander for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
During a June 2014 State Department briefing, Fox News reporter James Rosen asked Psaki why it had taken so long for the U.S. to capture Benghazi terror suspect Ahmed Abu Khattala (who had been arrested by American forces in Libya just a few days earlier) — even though Khattala had openly given several interviews to the pres during the years since the Benghazi attacks and had never even gone into hiding. Psaki replied that while the Obama administration had taken “every step possible” to capture Khattala, a “range of factors” had made it difficult to achieve that objective any faster. Rosen then countered by noting that Khattala had happily given interviews to a number of journalists over the years, and asked why U.S. forces hadn’t simply disguised themselves as reporters in order to gain access to the suspect and apprehend him. In response, Psaki joked, “Well, we appreciate your view. If you’re volunteering yourself for future endeavors, we’ll take that into account.” “You’re still not answering the central question, Jen,” Rosen retorted. “You’re not answering the question of why a reporter was able to get within six inches of this guy, and U.S. Special Forces weren’t for more than two years.” Psaki replied: “Reporters have interviewed a range of terrorists in the past. There’s nothing new about that. They have their own desire to get their story heard, their agenda heard. That’s entirely different from taking the steps necessary to apprehend someone … as has happened in this case. We did it as expeditiously as possible.”
Further Reading: “Questions They Still Won’t Answer” (Frontiers of Freedom, 11-4-2013); “Fox’s James Rosen to State Dept. Spox: Why Such ‘Egregious Delay’ in Capturing Benghazi Suspect?” (Mediaite.com, 6-17-2014).
Regarding the Muslim Brotherhood
In an August 2013 press briefing, Psaki said that the government of Egypt would be ill-advised to issue a ban against the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization from which numerous Islamic terrorist groups have sprung. “We believe any process moving forward needs to be inclusive and include all parties and all sides,” she explained. When an Egyptian court did indeed proceed to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood (and seize its funds) in September 2013, Psaki reiterated that the Obama administration would have preferred to see Egypt employ a political process that excluded no one: “All parties should avoid steps that would undermine this process,” she said.
During a February 2015 meeting between the State Department and a Muslim Brotherhood delegation, one of the delegation’s members was photographed standing in front of the State Department seal while flashing the four-finger Rabia symbol of the Muslim Brotherhood. When a reporter asked Psaki “if there’s been any rethink … about the appropriateness of this visit, considering what happened afterwards and the photographs that some of the participants took,” Psaki replied: “No.” The reporter then asked, “Are you—is the [State Department] comfortable with continuing to do business with this center, this group [CSID]?” Psaki answered, “Yes. Yes.”
Deeply troubled by the State Department’s decision to meet with the aforementioned Muslim Brotherhood delegation, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said in February 2015: “[W]e do not understand that there will be such a communication with the elements involved in terrorist acts to intimidate the Egyptians.” “The Brotherhood is not a political party,” he added, but “a terrorist organization.” A few days after the State Department’s meeting with the delegation, the Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement calling for “a long, uncompromising jihad” and a commitment to “martyrdom.”
Further Reading: “Psaki: Banning the Muslim Brotherhood Would Be a Bad Idea” (Washington Free Beacon, 8-19-2013); “Egyptian Court Bans Muslim Brotherhood” (Reuters.com, 9-23-2013); “State Dept Doubles Down on Meeting Muslim Brotherhood” (Clarion Project, 2-4-2015); “State Dept. Misled Reporters About Meeting With Muslim Brotherhood” (Washington Free Beacon, 2-2-2015); “Open Jihad Declared in Egypt Following State Dept. Meeting With Muslim Brotherhood-Aligned Leaders” (Washington Free Beacon, 1-30-2015).
Regarding the Iran Nuclear Deal
In 2015, the Obama administration and the leaders of five other nations finalized with Iran a negotiated agreement allowing the Islamist regime in Tehran to continue to enrich uranium, build advanced centrifuges, purchase ballistic missiles, fund terrorism, and eventually have a near-zero breakout time to a nuclear bomb approximately a decade down the road. Nevertheless, Psaki and the rest of the Obama administration portrayed the accord as a flawed but highly significant step towards thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Prior to 2015, the administration had consistently claimed, among other things, that private U.S. negotiations with Iran had not begun until 2013, and that it was only the election of more moderate Iranian leaders during that year which made it possible for any talks at all to place. But by December 2013, reports were beginning to surface that the United States had actually begun secret bilateral talks with Tehran as early as 2011 — long before any purported moderation had taken place there. Against that backdrop, Fox News reporter James Rosen asked Psaki whether her predecessor at the State Department, Victoria Nuland, had lied when she said, ten months earlier, that there had not yet been any negotiations between the U.S. and Iran. Psaki replied to Rosen, “I have no new information for you today on the timing of when there were any discussions with any Iranian officials…. I think there are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress.” In June 2016, it was discovered that the State Department had deleted that particular portion of Psaki’s exchange with Rosen from the video archives of the December 2013 press briefing.
Further Reading: “Missing State Tape on Iran Deal Reappears” (Washington Examiner, 5-10-2016); “What the State Dept. Cut from Iran Deal Briefing Video” (The Hill, 6-2-2016).
Regarding Terrorist Attack Against a Kosher Supermarket
Not long after a January 2015 terrorist shooting that killed four Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris, a reporter asked Psaki whether the Obama administration stood by the president’s initial claim that the victims of the atrocity were “random” (rather than specifically targeted because they were Jews). She replied: “Well … if I remember the victims, specifically, they were not all victims of one background or nationality, so I think what they mean by that is, I don’t know that they spoke to the targeting of the grocery store or that specifically, but the individuals who were impacted.” In a follow-up question, the reporter asked: (a) whether “even if the victims came from different backgrounds and different religions, different nationalities, the store itself was the target,” and (b) whether “the administration believe[d] that this was an anti-Jewish attack” against “a Jewish community in Paris.” Psaki responded: “I don’t think we’re going to speak on behalf of French authorities and what they believe was the situation [there].”
Further Reading:”AP’s Matt Lee Grills State Dept’s Psaki: Does Obama Really Think French Deli Attack Was ‘Random?’” (Real Clear Politics, 2-10-2015); “Greta: There Was Nothing ‘Random’ about Last Month’s Terror Attack on a Kosher Deli, Mr. President” (Fox News, 2-10-2015); “State Dept. Backs Obama over ‘Random’ Paris Attack” (Israel Nation News, 11-2-2015).
Regarding President Obama’s Failing Policies in the Middle East
In February 2015, Houthi rebels seized the Yemeni parliament building, forced the resignation of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, and caused the U.S. to abandon its embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa — making it the third embassy which the United States had been forced to vacate since the start of the Arab Spring. When Psaki was asked whether it was accurate to conclude that Americans in Yemen were “being run out of town,” she replied: “We certainly don’t look at it that way. I would remind you that we’re not the only country that moved our staff out of Yemen last night.”
Further Reading: “U.S. Not ‘Being Run Out of Town’ Despite Abandoning Third Embassy in Middle East” (Washington Free Beacon, 2-11-2015).
Regarding Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek
When Psaki was asked in a December 2014 press briefing to comment on a recent Egyptian court decision not to prosecute the country’s former president (and U.S. ally), Hosni Mubarak, she read a prepared statement from the Obama administration that said: “Generally, we continue to believe that upholding impartial standards of accountability will advance the political consensus on which Egypt’s long-term stability and economic growth depends.” Immediately after the briefing was over, Psaki, not realizing that her microphone was still live, could be heard telling one of her associates: “That Egypt line is ridiculous.”
Further Reading: “Hot Mic: Jen Psaki Loses It after Her State Dept. Propaganda Gaffe” (21st Century Wire, 12-6-2014).
Psaki Cannot Identify any Specific Achievements of Hillary Clinton
In an April 2014 press conference, Psaki was asked, “Can you, off the top of your head, identify one tangible achievement” of Hillary Clinton that was identified in the State Department’s most recent Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review summarizing the former Secretary of State’s goals and accomplishments. In response, Psaki forced a smile and replied: “I am certain that those who were here at the time, who worked hard on that effort, could point out one.” Moments later she said, “I’m sure there are a range of things that were put into place that I’m not even aware of.”
Further Reading: “State Department Spokeswoman Can’t Name Hillary Clinton’s Diplomatic Achievements” (Daily Mail, 4-23-2014).