WASHINGTON — In an unusual moment for a White House spokesman, John Kirby of the National Security Council repeatedly apologized Tuesday for falsely saying that the US government had given Iraq advance notice of airstrikes Friday against Iran-backed groups.
Washington did not give Baghdad the early warning, though Kirby had said the opposite on a press call shortly after the strikes in retaliation for the killing of three US troops in Jordan Jan. 28.
“I deeply apologize for the error and I regret any confusion that it caused,” Kirby told reporters at the start of of a virtual gaggle that largely focused on other topics, such as US aid to Ukraine.
“It was based on information we had, or that a witness provided to me, in those early hours after the strikes. It turns out that information was incorrect and I certainly regret the error,” Kirby went on.
“And I hope that you’ll understand there was no ill intent behind it — no deliberate intent to deceive or to be wrong. I take those responsibilities very, very seriously. And I deeply regret the mistake that I made.”
Kirby then ended the gaggle by saying: “I want to foot-stomp my apology at the top.
“I made a mistake there on Friday night,” he added. “I do really regret it and I promise you I will do a better job going forward and work harder to not put bad information out there. Again, my apologies.”
Kirby, who regularly cohosts White House briefings, is widely considered a potential future presidential press secretary and is known among reporters for colorful off-camera commentary.
The apology is a departure from the Biden White House’s response to prior high-profile errors, including the president asking “Where’s Jackie?” as he searched out the late Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) at a public event in 2022.
Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre refused to admit Biden made a mistake and insisted Walorski was simply “top of mind” in response to a series of questions at a press briefing.
Press secretaries of both parties have often dug in when pressed on apparently false information — including then-President Donald Trump’s first press secretary Sean Spicer, who defended his boss’ 2017 claim to have had the largest inauguration audience in history when photos clearly showed otherwise. Spicer later expressed regret for doing so.
Jean-Pierre, meanwhile, faced withering questioning last year from journalists about discoveries of allegedly mishandled classified documents at Biden’s post-vice presidency office and Wilmington, Del., home.
At a January 2023 briefing, NPR reporter Tamara Keith pressed Jean-Pierre on the omission of information about records found in Delaware from initial White House statements.
“Would you admit that earlier this week the White House shared incomplete information?” asked Keith, who was the then-president of the White House Correspondents’ Association.
“I think that when we all heard Merrick Garland say that these documents at the residence were found on Dec. 20 and they were notified, that was pretty surprising to all of us based on the statements that you and the president and the counsel’s office have made.”
Jean-Pierre defended the incomplete initial statements by saying “the search was continuing” at the time.
“When you talk about ‘we are being transparent’, who is ‘we’ and what is the definition of transparent in this case?” asked CBS reporter Ed O’Keefe.
“What has been transparent,” Jean-Pierre said, was that “the White House counsel has laid out in detail” the issue — despite the fact that disclosure only acknowledged the Penn Biden Center records found on Nov. 2 and not the home garage finds on Dec. 20.
“There has not been a limit on transparency,” Jean-Pierre claimed as O’Keefe continued to press, later adding that she was “limited in what I can say” due to the Justice Department investigation.