CNN host Wolf Blitzer hammered former State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki Friday over the multiple lies told by the agency regarding deletion of her exchange with a reporter about Obama administration talks with Iran, and whether it was acceptable for spokespeople to ever purposefully deceive.
"It's one thing not to release all of the information you need for national security reasons or diplomacy or whatever," Blitzer said. "It's another thing to actually lie to the news media and to the American public as a result of that … Is it ever justified for a U.S. government spokesperson to lie to the American people?"
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Psaki did not directly say yes or no.
"I think that's a fundamental value that I have always followed is not to, and providing as much information as you possibly can, including being an advocate for when you can provide more, which is exactly what I did in the case of briefing on the Iran backchannel," Psaki said.
The saga began in 2013, when then-spokeswoman Victoria Nuland blatantly lied to Fox News correspondent James Rosen that the U.S. was not engaged in bilateral talks with Iran. This was revealed to be false. Asked in December of that year if lying was necessary to achieve policy goals, Psaki told Rosen that diplomacy needed "privacy" to progress at times, appearing to acknowledge that Nuland had lied earlier.
Last month, Rosen revealed the clip of that exchange with Psaki had been excised from the public record. Initially, the State Department blamed it on a "glitch," but spokesman John Kirby admitted Wednesday that in fact it was an intentional deletion, although he said he couldn't say who had ordered the deletion. Psaki denied having anything to do with it.
Following up on colleague Jake Tapper's aggressive report slamming the State Department's conduct the day before, Blitzer wanted Psaki to acknowledge Nuland had engaged in clear deceit.
"As you know, it's one thing to be discreet and not release all the information for sensitive reasons … but it's another thing to flat-out lie to the news media and to the American public, which is what your predecessor Victoria Nuland did when she was asked back in 2013 whether or not there were secret, bilateral, government-to-government negotiations going on with Iran, and she said no. That was a lie, right?" Blitzer asked.
Psaki deflected, saying Blitzer would have to ask Nuland about that, but she again justified Nuland's remarks by saying it wasn't possible to provide information "at a sensitive time."
"My role was providing information. I was an advocate of that about the backchannel. It was at the time where we could do that because of where the diplomatic negotiations were," Psaki said. "There's a long history for decades, again, of not being able to provide information when it's at a sensitive time that could have an impact, and that certainly was the case earlier that year."
Blitzer played the now-infamous clip of Rosen asking why Nuland had lied about the secret talks with Iran.
"The accusation against you, Jen, and I want to give you a chance to respond, is that you were defending that earlier lie from Victoria Nuland," Blitzer said.
She repeated there were times in negotiations when the public couldn't be briefed on goings-on.
"That means all parties are weighing in," she said. "It becomes a public debate instead of a private negotiation that, as you know from covering these type of negotiations for years, is often needed in order to make progress."