Associated Press reporter Matt Lee angrily stormed out of the State Department’s daily press briefing Tuesday when spokesman John Kirby would not answer his question about how many Americans had been injured in the terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium.
The city of Brussels was rocked by coordinated terror attacks Tuesday morning that killed over 30 people and injured 187 others. The Islamic State jihadist group claimed responsibility for the attacks, although Kirby said at the briefing that the U.S. government cannot yet confirm the veracity of those claims.
Kirby also said in his opening remarks that Americans were injured in the attacks, but the State Department is not ready to give a specific figure of how many were hurt.
Lee said he understood the department could not give a complete count of the number of Americans injured but asked Kirby for the minimum number possible.
“I’m going to avoid giving a specific number,” Kirby responded.
“Why can’t you just say the number that you have confirmed and qualify it by saying it’s incomplete and could rise,” Lee asked in response. “The U.S. military has already spoken about one service member and a family. The Mormon Church has spoken. If the State Department is not able to give even a preliminary, albeit incomplete, count, why?”
The service member Lee mentioned is reportedly an unidentified Air Force lieutenant colonel who was hurt along with his family, and he referenced the Mormon Church because it announced Tuesday that three missionaries from Utah and a fourth person traveling with them from France were also wounded.
Kirby told Lee he would not give a number of those injured because it keeps fluctuating.
“So is it possible to go down?” Lee asked.
“I don’t know, Matt,” Kirby responded, becoming increasingly annoyed. “And it would be irresponsible for me to give out a number now when the numbers are actually changing literally by the hour.”
Lee became noticeably frustrated, asking, “I really don’t understand why you cannot give a number that you know for sure and say, then, that, look—”
“Because we don’t have a number we know right now for sure, Matt,” Kirby interjected. “When we have better information … we will gladly and happily provide it to you.”
The two went back and forth in this manner until Lee dropped the question and instead asked, “Can you say that you know of the three Mormon missionaries that the Church has talked of?”
“I can’t confirm specific individuals,” Kirby said.
Lee muttered something inaudible and grabbed an item from the chair next to him before walking out of the briefing out of frustration.
Kirby turned to another reporter for questions.