Part of a video of a State Department press briefing addressing secret talks between the U.S. and Iran was deliberately deleted before it was posted online, an investigation by the department’s legal adviser found Wednesday.
State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday that an unknown U.S. official made a request over the phone to delete several minutes of a December 2013 video of the exchange between reporters and a State Department spokeswoman. The State Department routinely posts on its site the briefing that it holds nearly every day with the diplomatic press corps.
Kirby said the department technician who made the edit could not recall who requested it.
The deleted portion of the video involves questions about a previous press briefing in 2012 in which then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland denied secret talks between the U.S. and Iran about a potential nuclear deal were taking place.
After it was revealed in December 2013 that secret talks between the U.S. and Iran actually had taken place, then-spokeswoman Jen Psaki admitted the administration lied in order to protect the secret negotiations.
Earlier this month Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes acknowledged to The New York Times that the administration was deceptive about the talks, creating a “narrative” that they did not take place.
When James Rosen of Fox News – who asked the original questions of Psaki – tried to refer back to the video last month, he found the exchange had been deleted.
Kirby, who originally called the deletion a “glitch,” said Wednesday that he asked State Department lawyers to look into the matter after being notified about the omission.
“They learned that a specific request was made to excise that portion of the briefing. We do not know who made the request to edit the video or why it was made,” Kirby said.
Another senior State Department official said the technician found the request “unusual” and consulted her supervisor before making the edit. The supervisor, who also could not remember the name of the person who called, approved the request because it came from someone “from a certain level and credibility” in the Department of Public Affairs.
“Although this person did not remember the person who called her, or the person they were calling on behalf of, she remembers it was not (Jen) Psaki,” this official said. “Jen did not request it, did not know about it and had nothing to do with it.”
Psaki, who now is the White House communications director, tweeted Wednesday that she was unaware of the episode: “I had no knowledge of nor would I have approved of any form of editing or cutting my briefing transcript on any subject while @StateDept.”
Kirby noted that the full briefing transcript, including the exchange on Iran, had always been available on the State Department website and that the omitted video has since been replaced with a complete version that had been archived with the Defense Department.
He said that was the only instance he was aware of in which briefing videos were edited, though he couldn’t be sure there weren’t others. He announced a new policy Wednesday in which every video would be posted immediately with all edits disclosed.
“To my surprise, the Bureau of Public Affairs did not have in place any rules governing this type of action,” he said. “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.”
Because such rules weren’t previously in place, Kirby said he found “no reason” to press forward with a more formal investigation.