State Department spokesman John Kirby admitted Wednesday that a portion of a State Department press briefing from December 2013 showing the Obama administration possibly deceiving the media and public about the Iran nuclear deal was deliberately deleted, with no rules in place to govern this kind of action.
"I asked the Office of the Legal Adviser to look at this, including a look at any rules that we had in place," Kirby told reporters at the department’s daily press briefing. "In so doing, 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. To my surprise, the Bureau of Public Affairs did not have in place any rules governing this type of action."
Fox News correspondent James Rosen first reported last month that several minutes of a department press briefing from December 2, 2013, were deleted for unknown reasons.
"Late today, we discovered that the State Department’s video of its December 2, 2013, press briefing, at which I confronted spokesperson Jen Psaki about the false statement made by her predecessor, Victoria Nuland … has itself, with the use of a white flash, been deleted from both the State Department’s official website and from its YouTube channel," Rosen reported on May 9.
"In that exchange, Psaki effectively admitted that the administration had lied to me because the diplomacy [between the United States and Iran] needed ‘privacy,’" Rosen added. "The State Department told me just moments ago it cannot explain this deletion and is working to restore the excised material."
Rosen had previously asked then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland at a press briefing on February 6, 2013, if the administration was engaged in secret talks with the Iranians over its nuclear program.
"With regard to the kind of thing you are talking about on a government to government level, no," Nuland replied at the time.
The administration was engaged in talks with Iran then, however, and nuclear negotiations had started as early as 2011 in Muscat, Oman.
The State Department press corps grilled Kirby on the intentional deletion Wednesday, trying to find out more about how it could have happened.
The video cut occurred the same day as the press briefing, according to Kirby, who added the request to do so was made over the phone.
"The recipient of the call, who is one of the editors, does not remember anything other than that the caller was passing on a request from somewhere else in the [Bureau of Public Affairs in the State Department]," Kirby added.
The department is not investigating the matter further to see who may have wanted the video deleted or why because there were no rules in place to govern this sort of action.
"So while I believe it was an inappropriate step to take, I see little foundation for pressing forward with a formal investigation," Kirby said, adding his goal is to make sure policies are put in place to ensure something like this does not happen again to maintain transparency.
"Clearly somebody, however, is not as committed to transparency and disclosure as you are," Reuters reporter Arshad Mohammad said. "Because it affected a very sensitive matter, not merely the Iran nuclear negotiations, but more importantly whether a previous person at that podium spoke truthfully. I wonder why you are not making a greater effort to find out who sought to burglarize the record. Even if there weren’t rules, it stands to common sense and your own inclinations that you’d be transparent. So I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to find out who tried to subvert what has historically been a transparency of the department in these matters."
Kirby defended his actions, saying the department took due diligence and that the individual who received the phone call simply has no memory of the incident because it was three years ago.
The State Department had maintained after Rosen’s initial report that the video deletion was a "glitch," but Kirby confirmed Wednesday that is no longer the department’s view.
"We learned that there was a deliberate request, that this was not a technical glitch. This was a deliberate request to excide video," Kirby said.
Mohammad then asked Kirby if former spokeswoman Nuland explicitly lied when she said in 2013 that no secret nuclear negotiations were going on between Iran and the United States. Kirby said he could not comment on what occurred before he arrived at the department but has "no doubt" that each spokesperson acts with honesty and integrity.
Kirby said he was not sure why someone wanted the video deleted or why the person who received the request on the phone did not give any pushback.
"So the person you spoke to admitted cutting it from the tape and said somebody they can't remember told them to do that … That seems a little fishy, right?" Associated Press reporter Bradley Klapper asked.
"The recipient of the call doesn't remember anything other than that the caller, the individual who called this technician, was passing on a request from someone else in the Public Affairs Bureau," Kirby responded before repeating that no rules were in place to govern this kind of situation.
"Come on, John! Just because there were no rules governing taking out a public briefing and editing it doesn't mean that it was the right thing to do," CNN correspondent Elise Labott exclaimed. "So I'm sorry that there were no rules."