WH spox, CNN legal analyst trade barbs over special council report: ‘Respond with substance rather than defensive bluster’

Accusations of “defensive bluster” from the White House fostered tensions between the administration and corporate media over what the “feeble old man” knew “all along.”

The fallout from special counsel Robert Hur’s report on President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents saw a typically friendly corporate media at odds with spokesperson spin. Such was the case after CNN legal analyst Elie Honig described the “razor’s-edge call” against a future indictment of Biden that prompted pushback from White House spokesman Ian Sams.

In his recent piece for New York Magazine, Honig zeroed in on information shared between then-former Vice President Biden and his ghostwriter when he asserted, “It’s not the ‘feeble old man’ part that matters most in the incendiary report by special counsel Robert Hur. It’s that Joe Biden knew he had highly classified documents in his home, kept them for a reason, and held on to them for years.”

“He knew, all along. He arguably broke the law, and he definitely misled the American public,” wrote the analyst.

NBC News correspondent Ken Dilanian shared that piece on X prompting Sams, who also serves as Senior Advisor to the White House Counsel’s Office, to retort with a letter he had previously issued to the press, and the caption, “This is an embarrassingly false assessment by Elie Honig, amplified by Ken Dilanian, both of whom are smart and can read but apparently haven’t. All these theories are raised in the report then thoroughly dissembled by facts & evidence. I laid it all out in a letter to the press.”

While Sams had kvetched about the coverage of Hur’s report he described as “written in a confusing, meandering way,” Honig advised in a statement to the media that, “The White House spokesperson should read the piece and respond with substance rather than defensive bluster.”

Such was the stance of Dilanian as well who responded to the spokesperson’s slam with his own, “Read every word, including these: ‘The practices of retaining classified material in unsecured locations and reading classified material to one’s ghostwriter present serious risks to national security.'”

As had been previously covered, Biden’s ghostwriter, Mark Zwonitzer, getting a pass alongside the president was criticized by Honig who had noted after an impromptu press conference from the White House, “He’s on tape — after he’s out of the vice presidency — saying to his autobiography, ‘the classified documents are in the basement.'”

Meanwhile, Kelly O’Donnell, White House Correspondents’ Association president and senior White House correspondent for NBC News,  had defended against the assault of the press in Sams’ letter and contended, “As a non-profit organization that advocates for its members in their efforts to cover the presidency, the WHCA does not, cannot and will not serve as a repository for the government’s views of what’s in the news.”

“It is inappropriate for the White House to utilize internal pool distribution channels, primarily for logistics and the rapid sharing of need-to-know information, to disseminate generalized critiques of news coverage,” she continued.

Kevin Haggerty

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