An official within the State Department ordered the editing of a damning portion of video from a Dec. 2013 daily press briefing discussing negotiations between the Obama administration and Iran, an agency spokesman acknowledged on Wednesday.
State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters that a public affairs official placed a phone call on Dec. 3, 2013, the same day as the daily press briefing, ordering the removal of video showing Fox News reporter James Rosen asking then-State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki whether anyone inside the Obama administration has misled the American public about the Iran negotiations.
At a press briefing in 2012, Rosen had asked Psaki’s predecessor, Victoria Nuland, whether nuclear negotiations with Iran were being held. Nuland said they were not. Psaki provided a cryptic answer in response to Rosen’s question.
“James, I think there are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress. This is a good example of that,” she said. (RELATED: State Department Purged Video Archive To Cover Up Deception On Iran Negotiations)
But that statement was undermined by a recent New York Times profile of Ben Rhodes in which the Obama adviser said that secret negotiations with Iran were underway in 2012. The article drew widespread outrage as it confirmed the suspicions of some opponents of the negotiations who asserted that the Obama administration had mislead the American public about the talks.
After the publication of that profile Rosen checked the State Department’s website and Youtube account and found that segment of him asking Psaki about Nuland’s denial had been scrubbed.
Kirby said Wednesday that he instructed the office of the legal advisor to look into the removal of the video.
“They learned that a specific request was made to excise that portion of that briefing,” he said. “We do not know who made the request to edit the video, or why it was made.”
“To my surprise, the bureau of public affairs did not have in place any rules governing this type of action,” he continued, adding that “removing a portion of the video was not and is not in keeping with the State Department’s commitment to transparency and accountability.”
When asked about the removal of the video during a press briefing last month, State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said “genuinely, we think it was a glitch.”
But Kirby says that is not true.
“This wasn’t a technical glitch. This was a deliberate step to excise the video,” he said Wednesday.
The spokesman said that the recipient of the call to excise the video does not recall who gave the orders to do so. The requester was allegedly passing on orders “from somewhere else in the bureau.”
While Kirby said that the agency is revamping its procedures, he said that no further investigation will be conducted.
“The short answer is…’no,'” he told a reporter who asked if the agency will try to get to the bottom of the burgeoning scandal.
“As I said there were no rules in place at the time to govern this sort of action. So while I believe it was an inappropriate step to take I see little foundation for pressing forward with a formal investigation,” he said.
Reporters at the daily press briefing seemed taken aback by Kirby’s rationale for not ordering additional investigation.
“Come on, John, just because there were no rules governing taking out a public briefing and editing it doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do,” a CNN reporter said to Kirby.
“Sorry that there were no rules, I don’t really think just because there was no rule on certain things…and you’ve said from this podium there was no rule on Secretary Clinton using email but it was the wrong thing to do.”
Kirby also declined to weigh in on whether Nuland or Psaki lied during their responses to Rosen.
“I’m not going to re-litigate past briefings,” he said, adding later that “I’ve only been at the State Department for a year, so I’m not going to speak to events that happened well before I got here.”
He did say that Nuland and Psaki served with “character and integrity” and were “extremely professional in the conduct of their duties.”
After Kirby’s press briefing, Psaki, who now serves as director of communications for the White House, took to Twitter to deny any involvement in editing the video.