A report from the State Department’s office of the legal advisor undermines the agency’s recent claims about how a portion of video from a Dec. 2, 2013 press briefing discussing the Iran nuclear deal went missing.
The State Department said Thursday that its investigation into how the video came to be deleted was “inconclusive” regarding whether the deletion was made to cover up an embarrassing exchange during that 2013 briefing.
But the 18-page report, a copy of which was obtained by The Daily Caller on condition that it not be published in full, shows that a State Department video technician told investigators that the female official working in the bureau of public affairs who ordered the video deletion specifically mentioned an exchange between Fox News reporter James Rosen and Jen Psaki, the State Department’s spokeswoman at the time.
“The technician did not recall a reason being given for the edit request, but did believe that the requester had mentioned in the course of the call a Fox network reporter and Iran,” reads a section of the report filed under the heading “Evidence of Purposeful Editing.”
The passage, which was first reported by Fox News on Monday, contradicts the State Department’s official claims throughout the controversy.
State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Thursday that the office of the legal adviser was unable to determine whether the video was missing because of a technical glitch or because of “nefarious” human activity.
“There is no evidence to indicate who might have placed that call or why,” Kirby said, adding that there was also “no evidence to suggest” that the video deletion was “made with the intent to conceal information from the public.”
But Kirby did not mention that the legal adviser — which interviewed 34 current and former State Department employees — found that State Department official who ordered the video to be edited specifically mentioned the exchange between Rosen and Psaki.
“There’s also no evidence that anybody did this with a deliberate intent to conceal,” Kirby told reporters, despite evidence directly laid out in the legal adviser’s report.
The Psaki-Rosen exchange has proved embarrassing for the State Department and Obama administration.
During it, Rosen asked Psaki about another exchange he ha he had asked another State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, earlier that year.
Nuland had told Rosen during a press briefing that the U.S. was not engaged in bi-lateral talks with Iran about its nuclear program. When Rosen asked Psaki whether Nuland had been lying, Psaki provided a cryptic response.
“There are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress,” Psaki told Rosen. “This is a good example of that.”
According to the legal office’s report, the video technician who received the request to edit the video could not recall the identity of the caller.
The female technician told investigators she did not believe that the call had come from Psaki, who now works as director of communications for the White House.
The technician provided other strong evidence that the video edit request was intended to hide the Psaki-Rosen exchange.
“The technician indicated that the requester may also have provided the start and end times for an edit, though the technician also recalls consulting the written transcript to locate the exchange,” the report reads.
The technician told investigators they added a white flash to the video “in order to make clear that the footage had been removed.”
The Obama administration and State Department have gone to great lengths to protect the Iran nuclear deal from scrutiny.
But the controversy over the deleted video compounds other false claims that the administration has made about the agreement. Both the White House and State Department have said that the release of four American prisoners from Iran in January was not linked to a $400 million cash payment.
Kirby was forced to admit on Thursday that the two exchanges were linked and that the U.S. would not have given Iran the cash if they did not first turn over the four American prisoners.
The video controversy exploded in May after Rosen discovered that his exchange with Psaki had been replaced with the white flash.
He reviewed that press briefing after The New York Times published a profile of Ben Rhodes, the Obama administration’s chief architect of the nuclear deal. In that profile, Rhodes acknowledged that the administration had started negotiating with Iran in secret much earlier than previously reported.
After Rosen brought the video to the State Department’s attention, a spokeswoman asserted that the video was missing because of a technical glitch. Kirby altered the theory days later, telling reporters that an unknown State Department official had phoned the video technician to request the edit.
Kirby reopened the glitch theory during Thursday’s briefing saying that the video was uploaded to the State Department’s systems at the same time that the agency was having problems with its servers.
On Monday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner disputed that the passage in the legal adviser’s report shows that a State Department official specifically sought to scrub Psaki’s embarrassing exchange with Rosen.
“I think it would actually just mark where it was identifiable,” said Toner, referring to the unidentified official’s orders to the technician on where to edit the video.