“It didn’t happen.” According to published excerpts, President Joe Biden is denying an account of the Secret Service about an agent being attacked by his German Shepherd, Major, at the White House. The statement from the President raises some interesting legal questions after he effectively called an agent a liar about an official report on one of many bite incidents with the Biden dogs.
If the quote is accurate, the criticism could not only be viewed as defamatory but another unfounded attack on the integrity and veracity of federal employees by the President. This should not be dismissed as some sensational “President Bites Agent” story. It raises long-standing concerns over the lack of recourse for agents endangered or abused by protected individuals. Indeed, the controversy raises some of the issues litigated during the Clinton Administration over the status of Secret Service agents.
The book, “The Fight of His Life,” by author Chris Whipple details Biden’s continued mistrust of the Secret Service and his alleged avoidance of saying anything in front of agents. Biden has long had tense relations with the Secret Service, particularly after female agents complained about his exposing himself to them by insisting on swimming in the nude.
The book claims that Biden has his own “deep state” conspiracy theories. Biden reportedly views the Secret Service as essentially the enemy within, suggesting that it is populated by “MAGA sympathizers” due to the fact that the service “is full of white ex-cops from the South who tend to be deeply conservative.”
However, this is a major escalation in that reportedly strained relationship. Some of us previously discussed the problem of the Biden dogs (including his other dog Champ) biting agents, attacks that would ordinarily lead to liability. In one eight-day period, agents were bitten every day. Indeed, outside of the White House, the Biden dogs would qualify for strict liability under the common law as displaying a vicious disposition.
Under the common law, the Bidens could claim that Major and Champ were entitled to “one free bite.” The “one free bite rule” is a commonly misunderstood torts doctrine — suggesting that you are not subject to strict liability until after the first time your dog bites someone. In fact, you are subject to strict liability whenever you know or have reason to know of the vicious propensity of your animal. That can be satisfied by conduct such as frequent snapping or aggressive behavior.
The Biden case is more analogous to the infamous case from San Francisco involving lawyers and dog owners Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel. They were found both criminally and civilly liable after their two Presa Canario dogs killed apartment neighbor Diane Whipple. Various neighbors complained about the dogs. The dogs had not bitten anyone but were known to be aggressive. That was sufficient.
Accounts from the prior biting incident indicate that Major had been displaying aggressive behavior, including barking and charging at White House staff and security. Major’s “vicious propensity” was known or should have been known to the Bidens.
Yet, after the prior incident, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the injury as “minor” and insisted that Major was just “getting acclimated and accustomed to their surroundings and new people.” He was then sent away to Delaware with Champ. It was the equivalent of a politician going into “treatment” at the height of a scandal. Major was later returned to the White House but proceed to “acclimate” himself on the limbs of Secret Service agents.
The White House failed to disclose the incidents and only partially confirmed past attacks when pressed by the media.
Now Biden is quoted as saying that he does not trust the Secret Service and believes that one agent is outright lying about one attack by Major. The President is quoted as saying “Look, the Secret Service are never up here. It didn’t happen.”
The incident was reported by the agent and photos were taken to document that attack. The President’s denial of the location ignores the confirmed attack itself. Other agents complained about the disregard of the agents by the Bidens in the repeated attacks, including one agent who reportedly insisted that the president personally pay to repair a ripped coat after one attack on March 6, 2021.
Agents are quoted as being angry when then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki dismissed one attack as an agent triggering Major by suddenly appearing in the private quarters.
There is a difference, however, between being callous and being accusatory toward agents. President Biden went further in claiming that the agent was lying.
It is not the first time that the President has refused to consider evidence and categorically denounced federal officers. Last year, Biden publicly declared border agents guilty of whipping migrants despite a videotape refuting the allegation. He promised that they would be punished. The agents were later cleared of all of the whipping allegations, but the Biden Administration still sought to punish them anyway.
Now the President is calling an agent a liar about one of the numerous dog attacks by Major (who was later shipped away to be housed with “friends.”). It is a clearly defamatory statement since he is alleging that the agent not only lied but then filed a false report. The statement also impugns the character of other agents who documented in the incident.
The Secret Service is not some Praetorian Guard serving at the pleasure of the First Family or their pets. During the Clinton Administration, I represented former Attorneys General in opposing claims by President Clinton that agents could not give evidence against him under a “Secret Service Privilege.” The courts agreed that they remain law enforcement officers, not some personal body guard.
The only recourse for agents in the Biden biting incidents was to file for medical or leave benefits. The President, however, has impugned their integrity and professional reputations. If he told another person (as reported in this book) there is “publication” of a defamatory claim. Moreover, this is not an opinion but a stated fact that agents are “never up here” and thus the incident could not have occurred.
The Bidens know that it is doubtful that any agent would sue over their treatment. These are professionals. It is up to Congress to exercise oversight authority to guarantee that they are also not be treated as the chew toys of privileged pets.