The State Department acknowledged Wednesday that officials intentionally altered the video record of a 2013 department press briefing to delete comments by spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki about the state of nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and Iran — claiming that an unidentified administration official had ordered the comments removed.
Backing away from previous claims that a technical “glitch” had likely caused the video to go missing from the official tape archive, State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters that officials examining the matter determined that “a specific request was made to excise that portion of the briefing.”
However, Mr. Kirby said that officials with the department’s Office of the Legal Advisor, who reviewed the video after a Fox News journalist had reported on the missing section last month, were unable to determine “who made the request to edit to the video, or why it was made.”
The question of the timing and transparency of the administration’s diplomacy with Iran over its nuclear programs has reignited following a recent New York Times magazine profile of top Obama foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes that suggested the administration pushed a false narrative of how the outreach to Tehran was handled in Mr. Obama’s first term. The missing portion of Ms. Psaki’s briefing dealt directly with some of those matters and whether it is the State Department’s policy to lie in order to preserve the secrecy of negotiations.
Mr. Kirby did not identify the official who carried out the actual edit, but said that person had received a phone call from an unknown person inside the State Department who had ordered the action. “It was three years ago and the individual who took the call just simply doesn’t have a memory of it,” he said.
Ms. Psaki, now communications director for the Obama White House, said in a statement on Twitter Wednesday evening that she “had no knowledge of nor would I have approved of any form of editing or cutting my briefing transcript on any subject while @StateDept.”
But the vagueness of Mr. Kirby’s remarks are likely to prompt fresh media scrutiny into the matter, which critics have pounced on during recent weeks as an example heavy-handed spin tactics used by the Obama administration to sell the controversial Iran nuclear deal.
Fox News reporter James Rosen reported in early May that he had discovered a portion of a 2013 press briefing exchange that he had with Ms. Psaki was edited out of the video archives on the department’s website.
In an unusual twist, the print transcript of the same briefing was never altered. In the transcript, Ms. Psaki said the following in response to Mr. Rosen’s question about secret U.S.-Iran negotiations: “James, I think there are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress.”
Mr. Kirby told reporters that the video, from a Dec. 2, 2013 State Department daily press briefing, has been restored on the department’s website. He also said that at the time the deletion was made, the department’s “Bureau of Public Affairs did not have in place any rules governing this type of action.”
“Therefore, we are taking immediate steps to craft appropriate protocols on this issue as we believe that deliberately removing a portion of the video was not and is not in keeping with the State Department’s commitment to transparency and public accountability,” Mr. Kirby said.
• Guy Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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