News & Politics

Jen Psaki Refuses to Condemn Maxine Waters' Jury-Tampering Threats

Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. speaks to a colleague as David Marcus, CEO of Facebook's Calibra digital wallet service, testifies before a House Financial Services Committee hearing on Facebook's proposed cryptocurrency on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Speaking on behalf of President Joe Biden, Press Secretary Jen Psaki refused to condemn Rep. Maxine Waters’ (D-Calif.) remarks demanding a guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin case and calling for “more confrontational” protests if Chauvin is not found guilty. Given the violent riots in Minneapolis, Kenosha, Portland, and elsewhere over the past year following the death of George Floyd — riots that killed at least 26 people — Waters’ demand for an escalation in the absence of a guilty verdict seems quite chilling. It also seems likely to prejudice the jury.

Yet when CNN’s Kaitlan Collins asked Psaki about these remarks on Monday, the press secretary dodged the question.

Collins asked, “Does the president agree with what she said about ‘getting more confrontational?'”

“Well, I can speak to the president’s view. He’s been very clear that he recognizes the issue of police violence against people of color, communities of color, is one of great anguish and it’s exhausting and quite emotional, at times,” Psaki began, apparently excusing Waters’ heated rhetoric.

“As you know, he met with the Floyd family last year and has been closely following the trial, as we’ve been talking about, and is committed to undoing this longstanding systemic problem,” Psaki added. “His view is also that exercising First Amendment rights and protesting injustice is the most American thing that anyone can do. But as he also always says, protests must be peaceful.”

This boilerplate answer might have sufficed if the protests over the past year had not escalated into violent and destructive riots, damaging no fewer than 700 buildings in Minneapolis last year — with twelve structures “wholly destroyed,” i.e. burnt to the ground. Tragically, the riots ostensibly aimed at combatting racism destroyed black livesblack livelihoods, and black monuments.

While Biden has consistently urged Americans to avoid violence, he has not singled out antifa for condemnation in the same way as he has condemned right-wing groups like the Proud Boys. He has also not spoken out against the riots and looting amid the protests over the death of George Floyd, instead praising “peaceful protests.”

It is bad enough that Waters called for an escalation after the violent riots of the last year, but her remarks proved even worse considering that the jury is primed to hand down a ruling in the Derek Chauvin case. Waters’ demand for a guilty verdict may constitute jury-tampering and require a mistrial.

“We’re looking for a guilty verdict. We’re looking for a guilty verdict,” Waters declared. “We’ve got to not only stay in the street but we’ve got to fight for justice. But I am very hopeful and I hope that we are going to get a verdict that say ‘Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!’ and if we don’t, we cannot go away.”

A man asked Waters what protesters should do if Chauvin is not found guilty of murder. “We’ve got to stay on the street, and we’ve got to get more active, we’ve got to get more confrontational, we’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business,” she said.

Yes, apparently Waters thinks that violent riots that damaged more than 700 buildings in Minneapolis and cost the lives of at least 26 people are not “confrontational” enough.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Calif.) demanded that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) take action to hold Waters accountable. If Pelosi refuses, McCarthy said he would bring action against Waters himself.

“Maxine Waters is inciting violence in Minneapolis — just as she has incited it in the past,” McCarthy said in a statement. “If Speaker Pelosi doesn’t act against this dangerous rhetoric, I will bring action this week.”

Waters did not explicitly call for violence, looting, or arson, but her remarks were extremely reckless, given the context of the past year. As president, Biden should denounce her remarks and call for impartial justice in the trial of Derek Chauvin. It is not enough for Psaki to give muted condemnations of violent rioting and to act as though Waters’ comments were acceptable.