Newly-acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse could sue White House press secretary Jen Psaki for defamation, following her claim Tuesday afternoon that he was linked to the Proud Boys and her implication that he was a violent “white supremacist.”
Psaki dodged a question about whether President Joe Biden’s would apologize for his claim in 2020 that Rittenhouse was a “white supremacist,” despite the complete lack of evidence, and recent suggestions of a looming defamation lawsuit.
As Breitbart News reported at the time, Biden called Rittenhouse a “white supremacist,” without evidence, more than a month after the Aug. 25, 2020, attack in which he was later charged — and acquitted — for multiple counts of murder.
In Rittenhouse’s trial, the prosecution presented no evidence of any “white supremacist” motives or affiliations. When asked during the trial to comment, Psaki referred to Rittenhouse as a “vigilante,” rather than correcting Biden’s false accusation.
As Breitbart News noted following the acquittal, Rittenhouse has a good case for defamation against Biden. In an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, Rittenhouse asked Biden to consider the facts, and suggested a lawsuit was possible.
On Tuesday afternoon, Fox News’ Peter Doocy asked Psaki whether the president would apologize, given Rittenhouse’s acquittal, and the lack of any evidence that Rittenhouse was a white supremacist.
Rather than answer the question, Psaki attempted to blame former President Donald Trump for the violence, claiming that he had “actively” supported white supremacists and militia groups during his presidency, and that the violence involving Rittenhouse was a consequence.
She also claimed that Rittenhouse had “posed for photos” with the Proud Boys, a right-wing group.
That issue actually emerged during the trial, when the prosecution tried to introduce evidence of Rittenhouse posing with members of the Proud Boys at a bar after he was released on bail. The defense said Rittenhouse had no idea who they were.
Judge Bruce Schroeder rejected the photo, as CNN reported at the time, agreeing with the defense: “There’s still no suggestion in the evidence … that this was anything other than a happenstance occurrence.”
The judge also said that even if it were to be shown that Rittenhouse later met members of the Proud Boys, that was not evidence that he had any connection with them at the time of the riot in Kenosha, Wisconsin, several months earlier, and therefore it was inadmissible as evidence in the trial.
In addition, Biden’s claim that Rittenhouse was a “white supremacist” came in September 2020 — months before that photograph was taken in January 2021.
Moreover, Rittenhouse had just denied the night before that he was ever in a “militia,” or knew what a militia was. In an interview with Carlson on Monday evening, he said that claims that he belonged to a “militia” were “blatantly false,” adding: “I didn’t know what a militia was until after the fact until November like 25th … I am not in a militia. I don’t know what that is.”
Unlike the president, Psaki does not enjoy immunity from civil torts while Biden is in office. Rittenhouse is a public figure, and would have to show that she acted with “actual malice,” which is defined as “reckless disregard for the truth.” That, in turn, usually requires plaintiffs to show that a defendant knew something was untrue, or could have known, but said it anyway.
Given the outcome of the trial; the contrary evidence against tying Rittenhouse to white supremacist or militia groups; and the judge’s rejection of a connection with the “Proud Boys,” Psaki could arguably be said to have acted with “actual malice.”
Psaki’s claims connecting Rittenhouse to “white supremacist” groups, “militia,” and vigilantism could see her added to the growing list of media and political figures who are now vulnerable to defamation suits by Rittenhouse.