Former DHS secretary says Biden’s Putin remark was ‘statement of fact’

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson on Sunday said he would have framed President Biden’s remark that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power” as a “statement of fact” instead of walking back the reportedly ad-libbed declaration.

Biden made headlines on Saturday when, at the end of a speech in Warsaw, Poland, he said, “for God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

A White House official quickly attempted to walk back the remark, telling reporters that “the president’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region,” adding, “he was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.”

Johnson, who served under former President Obama, told moderator Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he agrees that Putin should not continue leading Russia, given recent events.

“I’m not sure I would have walked it back. He’s a war criminal. He’s slaughtering innocent men, women and children. He illegally invaded Ukraine. And he has got command and control of nuclear weapons. Such a person should not remain in power,” Johnson said.

Pressed by Todd on if Putin has lost his legitimacy, Johnson said the Russian president “more than lost his legitimacy.”

The former Homeland Security chief from 2013 to 2017 said he would have altered the remark to make clear that it was a “statement of fact,” rather than U.S. policy.

“At most, I would have modified the statement by saying it’s not a statement of our policy, it just simply a statement of fact,” he said.

“It was a statement of fact, virtually everyone agrees, everyone in the Western world agrees,” he later added.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said the U.S. has no plans to force regime change in Russia.

Johnson on Sunday noted that previous presidents have made ad-libbed remarks during their times in the White House, pointing to then-President Reagan calling the Soviet Union the “evil empire,” and joking in 1984 that “we begin bombing in five minutes.”

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