The Cable

Top Republican Calls for Investigation Into Deleted State Dept. Video

A powerful Republican lawmaker wants the State Department’s inspector general to launch a formal investigation into why the recording of a three-year-old press conference about the Iran nuclear talks was deliberately doctored -- and to find out who gave the order to do so.

US-UKRAINE-DIPLOMACY-PSAKI
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki speaks at the daily briefing at the State Department in Washington,dc on March 10, 2014. Washington called on Russia to prove that it was willing to act on a series of US proposals aimed at ending the crisis over Ukraine. US Secretary of State John Kerry had laid out a number of ideas to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and is prepared to take part in further talks "if and when we see concrete evidence that Russia is prepared to engage on these proposals," Psaki said. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

A powerful Republican lawmaker wants the State Department’s inspector general to launch a formal investigation into why the recording of a three-year-old press conference about the Iran nuclear talks was deliberately doctored — and to find out who gave the order to do so.

The request from Rep. Ed Royce, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, comes just days after the department admitted that the digital recording of the press conference included the deliberate omission of an exchange about the negotiations which eventually led to Washington’s landmark nuclear accord with Tehran.

“In tampering with this video, the Bureau of Public Affairs has undermined its mission to ‘communicate timely and accurate information with the goal of furthering U.S. foreign policy,’” wrote Royce.

Royce’s letter comes in response to an embarrassing State Department admission on Wednesday that it deliberately cut several minutes from the tape of a 2013 press briefing in which a Fox News reporter asked if the State Department had lied about the existence of secret talks with Iran over its nuclear program.

During the exchange, reporter James Rosen asked then-State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki why officials hid the fact that the U.S. and Iran were involved in the talks.

“Is it the policy of the State Department, where the preservation or the secrecy of secret negotiations is concerned, to lie in order to achieve that goal?” Rosen asked.

Psaki seemed to acknowledge that this was the case, saying:  “James, I think there are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress. This is a good example of that.”

The State Department originally said the deletion of that portion of the video was due to a technical “glitch,” but spokesman John Kirby confirmed this week that an unnamed official in the department had been deliberately ordered to cut the segment.

“This wasn’t a technical glitch, this was a deliberate step to excise the video,” Kirby told reporters.  

Kirby said the deletion was made by a technician who was called by an individual in the press office, and said neither would be punished.

The State Department says it is now implementing a new policy expressly prohibiting the deletion of press briefing videos except in the cases where privacy or national security concerns are paramount. It has also noted that the full written transcript of the exchange with Psaki was always publicly available on its website. But Royce and other Republicans are demanding to know who ordered the deletion of the video and for what purposes. 

“How is it not possible to determine who in the administration ordered that the video be altered, as the current spokesman has asserted?” asked Royce in his letter.  “Will there be no accountability? Have there been other instances where the State Department has altered the public record?”

Kirby, who was not at the State Department when the deleted exchange occurred, appeared on Fox News on Thursday and thanked the news outlet for uncovering the incident.

“I want to thank James Rosen, your correspondent, for bringing this to my attention. Because if he hadn’t a couple of weeks ago I would have never known this occurred,” he said.

He insisted that there “is no cover-up” but has given no indication that the individual responsible will be identified or disciplined.

The State Department’s inspector general, Steve Linick, has held the post since 2013 and is largely respected by both Republicans and Democrats.

 

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