WH spox Jean-Pierre dodges question about possible prison sentence commutation for Hunter during Air Force One press gaggle

 June 15, 2024

President Joe Biden's son Hunter was convicted on three federal felony gun charges on Tuesday that were related to an illegal 2018 handgun purchase in which the first son lied on a federal form about his otherwise admitted illicit drug abuse and addiction, which bars him from purchasing or possessing firearms.

Just one day after that verdict from a Delaware jury, a public relations disaster unfolded on Air Force One as White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre struggled to dodge a question about whether the president would commute an eventual prison sentence for his convicted felon son, according to ABC News.

The president had previously stated he would not use his power of executive clemency to issue a pardon for his son but his chief spokeswoman sidestepped the opportunity to similarly rule out the commutation of any prison sentence Hunter might receive later this year.

The president's statement about his son's conviction

The PR disaster aboard Air Force One came Wednesday as Jean-Pierre hosted a press gaggle alongside National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan while President Biden was en route to Italy for a G7 summit.

The press secretary opened the gaggle with a reading of the president's prepared statement issued immediately after the guilty verdict, and read, "As I said last week, I am the President, but I am also a dad. Jill an- -- Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today. So many families who have had loved ones battle addiction understand the feeling of pride seeing someone you love come out the other side and be so strong and resilient in recovery."

"As I also said last week, I will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal. Jill and I will always be there for Hunter and the rest of our family with our love and support. Nothing will ever change that," Jean-Pierre said to conclude the quote of Biden's statement and then told the reporters that she didn't "have anything beyond the statement" to add before turning things over to Sullivan.

Jean-Pierre doesn't rule out possible commutation for Hunter

Yet, almost immediately after Sullivan's portion of the press gaggle was finished, Jean-Pierre was hit with a question about how President Biden had "absorbed the news" of his son now being a convicted felon.

The reporter added, "And then, also, he has said that he was -- he has ruled out pardoning his son, but I wondered about a commutation -- whether that would be something that would be on the table -- a commutation."

"Yeah, so, look, as I stated at the top, I don’t have anything to say beyond -- to your first question -- beyond what the President’s statement was yesterday," Jean-Pierre replied. "He has been very clear. We’ve been very clear. You know, he -- he loves his son. And he and the First Lady love their son, and they support their son. I just don’t have anything -- certainly anything beyond that."

"What I will say is -- look, I -- I haven’t spoken to the President about this since the verdict came out. And as we all know, the sentencing hasn’t even been scheduled yet," she continued. "But you saw the President do an interview just last week when he was in Normandy. And he was asked, you know, a question -- several questions -- a couple of questions about this. And he was very clear, very upfront, very -- obviously very definitive. And I just don’t have anything -- he -- you have his w- -- own words. I just don’t have anything beyond that."

Dodging the question with repetitive talking points

Not everyone was satisfied with the press secretary's non-answer, however, as another reporter jumped in and asked, "So, you’re not ruling out that he would commute the sentence?"

Jean-Pierre continued to dodge the question, though, and as usual, fell back on her prepackaged talking points that had already been repeated a few times earlier, in the process leaving the door open for the president to potentially commute an eventual prison sentence for his son.

"Look, what I’m saying is that the President -- the Pre- -- I have not spoken to the President about this," the spokeswoman said. "And what I’m saying is he was asked about a pardon. He was asked about -- he was asked about the trial specifically. And he answered it very clearly, very forthright."

"As we know, the sentencing hasn’t even been scheduled yet. I don’t have anything beyond what the President said. He’s been very clear about this," Jean-Pierre added even though President Biden has not been "very clear" about a possible commutation since he hasn't been directly asked yet about it.

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