Barack Obama prefers virtual reality.
And you would too if you were a cheapskate who couldn't keep his promises and everyone was talking about it.
Friday, at the White House press briefing, spokesperson Josh Earnest faced some tough questions about Barack's failure to keep his word.
Q Thanks, Josh. I want to ask you about an interview that the parents of Kayla Mueller did. Of course, Kayla Mueller was taken hostage and murdered by ISIS, and the President went out to visit with the family about 17 months ago. Her parents say that, during that visit, the President had promised to make a donation to a foundation they had set up in Kayla's name. Is that correct? Did he make that promise?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Jon, let me just start by saying that obviously the ordeal that the Mueller family has had to endure is unimaginable. And their daughter, Kayla Mueller, was a special person who had a special calling in her life. And I actually still remember the first time that we were in this room talking about reports of her death. And her parents made public a letter that she had written and been able to deliver to them, or have delivered to them, where she talked about how her life had been fulfilled based on her passion to serve people in need. And I think the line that she used was she said that she recalled seeing God in the eyes of people who were in crisis. It's a really profound statement for somebody who was -- she was just in her late twenties when she was killed.
And her life and her example I think has had an impact on people all across the country. Her life and her example have had an impact on people here at the White House, myself included. And given all that, I think the pain and grief that continues to be experienced to this day by Kayla's parents I think is entirely understandable.
What I can say -- I'm not going to speak to any private conversations that the President has had with the Mueller family. I know that they've given an interview. What I will say is the President is aware of the foundation, Kayla's Hands, that's been formed to honor her memory and to honor her life's work. Is certainly is consistent with the kind of charitable organization that the President and the First Lady have supported in the past. And I do anticipate that the President would make a commitment to support this organization moving forward.
Q What Carl Mueller, Kayla's father, said is that the President in that meeting, back in March of last year -- that he said that he would be making a donation to the foundation, and 17 months later he says the donation has not been made. Can you confirm that no donation has been made?
MR. EARNEST: Well, listen, I wasn’t a part of the conversation. Obviously, Mr. Mueller and the President were. So what I can tell you is --
Q But you wouldn’t think he would lie about this?
MR. EARNEST: No, I'm not accusing anybody of not telling the truth. I'm just indicating that I wasn’t part of the meeting. And even if I were, I wouldn’t -- this is a private conversation. The President obviously is aware of the foundation that's been set up to support the life's work of Kayla Mueller, and it is exactly the kind of organization that the President and First Lady have supported in the past, and I would anticipate that this is a foundation that the President and First Lady would support.
Q Can you think of any reason that would prompt a delay like that? I mean, I know the President is obviously busy. Could he have forgotten about it? Or is there something that would prevent him as President for making a donation?
MR. EARNEST: Again, I can't speak to any promises or conversations between the President and the Mueller family directly.
Q The Mueller family, both parents, also expressed some disappointment with the amounts -- or saying that the efforts that were taken to free Kayla before she was murdered were inadequate. What Carl Mueller says is the President could have been a hero, but he chose not to. What's your reaction to that?
MR. EARNEST: Again, this is a father who is grieving over the loss of his daughter. And again, I think the grief and sadness that he feels about the fact that his daughter was not successfully rescued I think is an entirely human response and one that's entirely understandable. What I will say, Jon, is that at the direction of President Obama himself, a variety of national security agencies in the federal government expend significant resources and dedicate significant time to going to great lengths to try to rescue Americans who are being unjustly held against their will around the world.
And you’ll also recall, Jon -- I know you covered this closely -- there were some weaknesses in that approach that were identified by the administration. And there have been important reforms that have been made to that process over the course of the last 18 to 24 months that have resulted in more effective use of those resources and more effective use of the expertise within the federal government to sharpen our efforts to secure the return, or to rescue American citizens held against their will around the world.
There also has been a concerted effort made to improve the way in which the federal government of the United States communicates with families who are in this unspeakable situation, like the Mueller family was. And the President has been pleased by the way those reforms have improved the effectiveness, both in terms of securing the release of American hostages, but also in terms of communicating more clearly and directly with families who are in that difficult situation.
But the President hopes that the pace of improvement will continue as the reforms take root.
Q And I remember one of those issues was the question of private individuals paying ransom. The Muellers say that White House officials threatened them with criminal prosecution if they tried to pay the $6 million ransom that ISIS was demanding. Is that correct?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as we’ve talked about before, there are sort of three aspects to this. The first is, I’m just not going to get into private conversations between government officials and families who are in this difficult situation. I can tell you that it is not the policy of the Obama administration to threaten families like these who are in this situation with prosecution.
But thirdly, the United States does have a policy that we have assiduously followed of not paying ransom. And that is a very painful policy, and it’s understandable that families like the Muellers would have grave concerns about that policy, both as a policy matter, and I can understand them raising some pretty thorny moral questions about that, too. But the conclusion that President Obama reached is the same conclusion that previous Presidents in both parties have reached, which is that to get in the habit of paying ransom would only make Americans traveling overseas a more appetizing target to criminal or terrorist organizations that are hoping to collect a ransom.
And so for that reason, we’ve made clear and we have carefully followed a policy of not paying ransom, even to secure the release of Americans who are being held against their will overseas.
Q Okay, and just a last question, Josh. So just to be clear, the first line of questioning here. Can the Mueller family expect that the President, that the Obamas will make a donation to their daughter’s -- to the foundation in the name of Kayla Mueller soon?
MR. EARNEST: As I mentioned, I can’t speak to any previous conversations that they’ve had, but I can tell you that --
Q But is a donation coming, is the question.
MR. EARNEST: The foundation, Kayla’s Hands, that’s been established in her memory is certainly the kind of foundation that the President and First Lady have supported in the past. And I would anticipate that they would make a financial contribution to continue supporting it.