The State Department is searching the emails of “four or five” current and former press office officials as part of its investigation into who ordered the deletion of eight minutes of video from a Dec. 2, 2013 press briefing, a spokesman said Wednesday.
Mark Toner told reporters that emails and phone records of officials who “might have been aware of what was happening or of what happened” are at the center of the State Department office of the legal adviser’s probe into the excised video.
The video scrub was brought to light last month by Fox News reporter James Rosen. He noted that eight minutes of video from an exchange he had with State’s spokeswoman at the time, Jen Psaki, about nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and Iran had been replaced with a white flash.
In that exchange, Psaki suggested that the State Department is not above making false statements in order to protect sensitive operations. Rosen was following up on a question he had asked Psaki’s predecessor, Victoria Nuland, about whether U.S.-Iran negotiations were being held at the time. She said they were not, but a recent profile of White House adviser Ben Rhodes established that they were.
The State Department initially said that the video was missing due to a “glitch.” But John Kirby, who leads State’s press operations, acknowledged last week that an official within the press bureau ordered the video deletion.
That unidentified person reportedly gave orders to another individual who called a video technician to excise the footage. That technician, who is a woman, claimed that she could not remember who she talked to on the phone.
The State Department said last week that the investigation had reached a “dead end” and would likely not go forward. Kirby said that no rules or regulations had been violated. But reporters and members of Congress protested, pointing out that someone at the State Department had purposely distorted the public record.
Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz requested records relevant to the investigation. Toner said that the State Department was planning to send a “preliminary” response to the Republican later Wednesday. The Daily Caller filed a Freedom of Information Act request for emails sent to and from the video technician as well as records from the office of the legal adviser.
Toner on Wednesday provided some additional insight into which officials are at the center of the probe.
“We’re looking at all of the relative people who were occupying leadership positions. Spokesperson, deputy spokesperson, assistant secretaries, deputy assistant secretaries at the time who would have had purview over the video,” Toner said.
That group includes former State Department spokeswoman Psaki and her deputy, Marie Harf.
But as Toner noted Wednesday, both have strongly denied any involvement in ordering the video deleted.
“The spokesperson at the time and the deputy spokesperson at the time came out with statements publicly that they had nothing to do with it and no knowledge of it. And we’ve found nothing thus far that indicates otherwise,” he said.
That would leave two or three other officials as the likely culprits, according to Toner’s math.
Toner said that the agency has not yet gone through all of the emails and has yet to find any evidence showing the video deletion being ordered.