— By Domani Spero
By now you’ve seen the CBS News report about a State Department memo that reveals possible cover-ups and halted investigations. (See CBS News: Possible State Dept Cover-Ups on Sex, Drugs, Hookers — Why the “Missing Firewall” Was a Big Deal).
So, of course, it was a central piece during the June 10 Daily Press Briefing with State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki. That portion of the DPB is lengthy (because lots of running around the room) but we have republished it below for your enjoyment. Basically Ms. Psaki’s made the following points from the podium:
- “All cases mentioned in the CBS report were thoroughly investigated or under investigation,” but she could not say how many were completed and how many are ongoing.
- She also said that “Diplomatic Security has taken the further step of requesting an additional review by outside experienced law enforcement officers” and that the “investigation [is] being done by the Inspector General’s Office working with outside law enforcement officers.” Wow! Lots of outside law enforcement officers, but can’t say if these outsiders are Will Smith’s Men in Black.
- She made sure it’s clear, “I’m not suggesting that the IG is uniting with DOJ or the FBI. We would refer any criminal case, of course, to DOJ, as would be standard. But this is not that.”
- About that firewall, she said, “we’ve disputed the notion of the issue of the firewall with the OIG office.” For good measure, she also added, “The Department would never condone any undue influence on any report or investigation.”
- Oh you foolish people — wait she actually did not say that, but she did say, “I can say broadly that the notion that we would not vigorously pursue criminal misconduct in a case – in any case is preposterous.”
- Asked if there’s anything in the CBS News report that she would dispute, she answered, “I don’t think I’m going to get into parsing this CBS story here.” The reporter who asked the question got the record to reflect that “I didn’t ask you to parse anything, I just asked if you had any problems with the accuracy of the report.”
- The record did not reflect if Ms Psaki blinked when one of the reporters asked a Gotcha! question about an ambassador at the end of the press briefing.
One of the allegations in the CBS News report is that a State Department security official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” on foreign nationals hired as embassy guards. The OIG inspected US Embassy Beirut in 2011 and on February 29, 2012 released a severely redacted report (see Inspection of Embassy Beirut, Lebanon (ISP-I-12-10A). This report as indicated by its title has an accompanying security annex not available to the public. The compliance follow-up review (CFR) was conducted on the first quarter of 2013 and on May 31, 2013, the OIG released its CFR similarly with redactions (see Compliance Follow-Up Review of Embassy Beirut, Lebanon (ISP-C-13-27A). This also contains a classified security annex.
The May 2013 CFR has as one of its key judgments this line: “The acting regional security officer (RSO) is proactive and widely respected.” There’s gotta be a reason why this merit special mention. What is it?
And because our readers enjoy giving us puzzles, we heard that this alleged Beirut “sex scandal” has a US Mission Egypt connection. What is it?
Hey, to rephrase the DHS campaign — if you saw something, say something!
While waiting for these “outside law enforcement officers” to find out what really, really happened, please enjoy Ms. Psaki’s ‘no sex, no drugs, and too much rock n’ roll’ word cloud and awesome briefing below:
QUESTION: First, what – I guess we can begin most broadly simply by asking what comments you have about the report that aired on CBS News this morning concerning State Department OIG Office.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Well, the Department of State employs more than 70,000 dedicated men and women serving in some of the most challenging environments working on behalf of the American people at 275 posts around the world. We hold all employees to the highest standards. We take allegations of misconduct seriously and we investigate thoroughly. All cases mentioned in the CBS report were thoroughly investigated or under investigation, and the Department continues to take action.
Finally, the Department has responded to the recommendations in the OIG report regarding the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Investigations and Counterintelligence. Diplomatic Security has taken the further step of requesting an additional review by outside experienced law enforcement officers on top of the OIG inspection so that officers with law enforcement experience can make expert assessments about our current procedures.
QUESTION: Okay. There was a lot in there. And let me see if I can untangle it —
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Let’s see. We can go back and forth untangling.
QUESTION: — to borrow a phrase. You stated at one point early in your answer just now that all cases mentioned in the CBS News report were thoroughly investigated but that the State Department continues to take action on them. Did I understand you correctly?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. I did not mean to imply they were – the investigations were completed. Some are in process.
QUESTION: And when you talk about those cases being in process or in progress and action continuing to be taken on them, is that separate from the hiring of outside personnel that you also just referenced?
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not a hiring. It’s – it would be an investigation being done by the Inspector General’s Office working with outside law enforcement officers. So I would refer you them for any more specifics on that or how that would work. That’s a decision, of course, they make.
QUESTION: So you don’t have any further details you can share about who these outside investigators are or what they’re expected to accomplish?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the IG’s Office, which is as you know is independent, would be conducting this investigation, something we thoroughly support. But for any questions about that, I would naturally refer you to them.
QUESTION: So when you say that not all of these cases have been completed, some are still in progress, and that the State Department continues to take action, you’re saying that those pending cases are unfolding underneath the aegis of the State Department, not with respect to OIG?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. And there would be taking a look – and again, I don’t want to parse what their investigation is for them – but looking into current procedures, which is something that we fully support them doing.
QUESTION: As you know, one of the allegations in this story concerns a United States Ambassador who is still in that post said to have engaged in inappropriate conduct with minors as well as prostitutes. And I think you could understand the concerns that all Americans would have if one of our top diplomats overseas were engaged in that kind of activity and what that would do for the United States image abroad if credible allegations to that effect were, in essence, covered up. Can you assure the American people that no U.S. Ambassadors are engaged in that kind of inappropriate conduct, or that where there have been such credible allegations they have been fully investigated?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, I can confirm they would be fully investigated. I’m not going to talk about specific cases, but I can say broadly that the notion that we would not vigorously pursue criminal misconduct in a case – in any case is preposterous. And we’ve put individuals behind bars for criminal behavior. There is record of that. Ambassadors would be no exception. But of course, we would be – we are conducting investigations of all of these cases, and I don’t have anything further to speak to the process or status or anything along those lines.
QUESTION: Can I just – I want to clarify something, because there seem to be three different things going on here. One is the memo that the story reports on, which has to do with Diplomatic Security special investigations. You’re saying – and you said in answer to James’ question – all the cases that were mentioned in that story, which presumably is most of the ones or at least those are ones that are in this document, this memo, have either been investigated and they’re over or they’re still in the process of being investigated by DS.
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, secondly, you have an IG report or audit or inspection of the investigatory department, that – of all of DS, I guess, but including that agency or that branch of it, which said that there is the perception, at least among some in DS, that investigations have been or can be influenced. Are you aware – because the IG report doesn’t actually come out and say that there has been any of this undue influence or improper influence. Is that still the case?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t – am I aware personally? No.
QUESTION: Well, is the building – does the building think that this is a significant enough concern that the procedures should be changed, or is this something that is purely going to be done by the third strand of this, which is this outside review of the DS chain-of-command or the DS process?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me see if I can explain this a little further. In the memo – there was an original memo that CBS was referring – there’s another IG memo that is public from February. And one of the issues that was raised in there was the lack of a firewall, which is what you’re referring to, I believe, if I’m understanding your question. And we have disputed this finding in a number of engagements with the OIG. The Department would never condone any undue influence on any report or investigation. But again, we took the extra precaution of asking – or I should say DS did – of asking or supporting – IG makes their own decisions – an investigation to look into the processes. And that’s what they’re doing so.
QUESTION: Okay. So in fact, there was a response to the OIG report, which said that there was this potential problem in the way that the structure in DS – that’s the process – there was a potential problem with the way it was structured and the investigatory process. And you said no, you don’t think that there is, but we’re going to go and bring in these outside people to look at it to make sure; is that —
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. And when was that outside – there was some suggestion that it was as a result of questions being asked about this that the outside investigation or the outside review was commissioned. How long ago was that?
MS. PSAKI: No, I can’t – I don’t know the exact timing, but I can assure you it was long before we were contacted by CBS.
QUESTION: Can I – there’s something I don’t understand here, Jen. First of all, the outside people who are being brought in, they’re —
MS. PSAKI: And just to be clear, sorry to interrupt you —
MS. PSAKI: — they’re not being brought in here.
MS. PSAKI: This is an independent IG process.
QUESTION: Right, so that’s the first thing I want to understand. So in other words, the State Department Inspector General has made a decision to bring in outside people to look into that issue?
MS. PSAKI: The process, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: The process, good.
MS. PSAKI: And procedures, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Second, it’s not clear to me, and maybe you said it precisely, but I thought I heard it both ways – are those outside people who are being brought in by the IG to look at the process – are they current law enforcement officials, or are they people simply with law enforcement backgrounds?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of detail. Experienced law enforcement officials – the IG would be able to – office would be able to define them more clearly for you.
QUESTION: Since you mentioned it, though, I think it’s an important distinction to make, and ideally for you to clarify. Because if they are law enforcement officers working for another agency, right, like the Department of Justice or the FBI, whose jobs it is to investigate criminal malfeasance, then —
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I don’t want you to combine a DOJ or FBI investigation with this independent IG investigation.
QUESTION: But that’s exactly why I’m asking, because if you’re not explaining who these people are – and I’m not looking for details, but I do think it’s important to understand whether these are people who have brought in – been brought in from other arms of the government whose job it is to investigate alleged malfeasance, or whether it – I don’t know, there may be consultants, there are lots of them that exist, that happen to have had law enforcement background, but are independent consultants who don’t work for the U.S. Government formally now.
So can you clarify that one point for us?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I don’t have that level of detail, but I also just want to be very clear: I’m not suggesting that the IG is uniting with DOJ or the FBI. We would refer any criminal case, of course, to DOJ, as would be standard. But this is not that. So —
QUESTION: Okay. I think it’s important to understand, are these contractors with law enforcement experience, or are these law enforcement officials who have been brought over by the Inspector General? So if you can clarify that for all of us, I would appreciate it.
MS. PSAKI: Again, the IG’s office is the best place, but I understand your need for clarification.
QUESTION: Well, I’m confused now. Is the IG office – whose process are these outside investigators looking at? DS’s, right?
MS. PSAKI: The OIG, the Office of the Inspector General, is working with law enforcement.
QUESTION: The IG has hired these outside people to come in and look, or whatever?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have the level of detail of how they’re working together.
QUESTION: It’s the IG and not DS that’s done that?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: All right. DS prides itself on being a federal law enforcement department. How is it that they can’t figure out what the proper way to structure these things is?
MS. PSAKI: Well, they’ve also – they’re also conducting investigations, as would be standard in any case of misconduct, on these cases as well. So this is just a separate investigation by an independent body looking into the processes, something we fully support.
QUESTION: Do you know, of the cases mentioned in the memo or the CBS report, how many have been resolved —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t, and I also would —
QUESTION: — and how many are still under investigation?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I would be able to provide that information.
QUESTION: Well, surely you could say that if any criminal activity was uncovered, do you know how many of them resulted in – because there are such things as allegations that turn out not to be proven, not to be true.
MS. PSAKI: There are. There certainly are.
QUESTION: So do you know how many were – turned out not to be true, or how many —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have that level of information.
QUESTION: Well, I think that it would be quite nice if we could figure out exactly —
MS. PSAKI: If there’s something we can share on that, I’m happy to.
QUESTION: Because if all of these cases have been thoroughly investigated and there was no indication of criminal activity or that they were handled administratively, there was something short of criminal activity, it would be good to know. Because the impression from the report left out there is that the State Department is just ignoring really serious violations of the law.
MS. PSAKI: I think I made clear that’s not the case.
QUESTION: Well, that is the impression.
QUESTION: Can you address one particular allegation that’s in this original memo, which is the effect that the use of prostitutes by members of the Secretary of State’s detail, security detail, has been endemic over the years? That’s the word that was used, endemic.
MS. PSAKI: Again —
QUESTION: Is that something you can assure the American people, that the Secretary of State’s protective detail hasn’t been out cavorting with prostitutes in every port of call?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I started off by talking about how many people work for the Department of State around the world. Last year alone, the detail accompanied then-Secretary Clinton to 69 countries with more than 10,000 person-nights spent in hotels abroad. So I’m not going to speak to specific cases, as I said at the onset, for obvious reasons. But it is hardly endemic. Any case we would take seriously and we would investigate, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
QUESTION: What is (inaudible)?
MS. PSAKI: He asked me if the incidents of a couple of individuals soliciting prostitutes would be – would show that it was endemic.
QUESTION: No, I thought he asked – and maybe I’m wrong, but I thought he asked, is the use of prostitutes by the Secretary’s detail endemic.
MS. PSAKI: I think we just said the same thing, and I just said —
QUESTION: And – well, no, you said he asked whether a few instances suggested that it was endemic, whereas I think his question was, “Is it endemic?” And is your —
MS. PSAKI: Absolutely not.
QUESTION: Okay, great. Thank you.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, are you saying that there are a few instances of this?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not at all.
QUESTION: Well, you just said that.
MS. PSAKI: He was asking me about a report that is being investigated.
QUESTION: Okay. So —
MS. PSAKI: And I don’t have anything further on that specific report. So he —
QUESTION: All right. So that is one of the ones that is still being looked at?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have anything specific for you on the status of any of these cases.
QUESTION: Well, I think you – but you opened the door to this line because you said – you hardly – you think that a few isolated – or whatever you said – a few —
MS. PSAKI: Alleged, Matt, alleged.
QUESTION: Okay. Alleged, all right, so it is still – it is alleged.
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into, again, just to repeat, the specific incidents or the specific cases. But I did think it was worth making the point of how broad the Diplomatic Security issue – office is, how many men and women serve proudly and bravely every day.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you just one more thing on this?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Are you comfortable speaking – declaring something not to be true for 70,000 people?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think —
QUESTION: I mean, are you comfortable, when you’re asked, can you assure the American people that something, whatever it is, is not endemic, you’re pretty confident when you say no, it’s not —
MS. PSAKI: I do feel comfortable —
QUESTION: — even though you’re talking about a large, large universe of people?
MS. PSAKI: — and after I said we have 70,000 employees, I said we take – we hold every employee to the highest standard. We take every allegation of misconduct seriously and we look into it.
QUESTION: Jen, can I ask you, do you take issue with any of the instances that were mentioned in the CBS report that are being or have been examined by the Diplomatic Service and the IG? There was – the one we’ve mentioned, we talked about the prostitutes, there was always – also an issue about drugs being sold at the Baghdad Embassy. Do you – does the Department take issue with any of those cases that were mentioned?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I just – I understand the desire to know more about each case, but I just can’t go into specifics for ongoing cases. I just made a broad point for the purpose of talking about Diplomatic Security as a whole, but I’m not going to go into specific cases.
QUESTION: So you can’t tell us whether each of those cases mentioned in the CBS is actually something that has been looked into by the IG?
MS. PSAKI: I did say at the beginning that they’re all being investigated or have been investigated, but I’m not going to go into specifics of the status of what they —
QUESTION: No, but you could confirm if those cases are factually correct, as in the CBS report.
MS. PSAKI: It is not at all confirming they’re factually correct. These are allegations in a memo. So obviously, as I stated at the beginning, they have been – all these cases are being looked into. They were already in the process of being looked into prior to the memo, and again, I don’t have any update on status, or I don’t want to break down what is happening internally.
QUESTION: And can you tell us how they came to the notice of the IG? What triggered —
MS. PSAKI: I can’t. You’d have to ask the IG office that question. It was an IG memo.
QUESTION: So then just for clarification, none of these cases have been resolved, then? Because you said they’re all —
MS. PSAKI: Again, I didn’t —
QUESTION: You said you can’t comment on cases that are in an ongoing process. So —
MS. PSAKI: Just to alleviate all confusion, these – all these cases have been looked into or are being looked into. I’m not breaking down which have been concluded, which haven’t. That’s not something —
QUESTION: Can you – I mean, you said you’re —
MS. PSAKI: I cannot.
QUESTION: — not allowed to talk – I’m just clarifying —
MS. PSAKI: I cannot.
QUESTION: — you’re not allowed to talk about cases that are in process, but —
MS. PSAKI: I didn’t mean —
QUESTION: — are you able to talk about cases that are resolved?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on any of the specific cases.
QUESTION: And you would dispute the notion that any of these cases that have been – that are being looked into, that there was any kind of political pressure or other kind of pressure put on the investigators? You would say that that is not correct, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. This is obviously – we’ve taken —
QUESTION: So the memo, the allegations in the memo, according to this building, are wrong?
MS. PSAKI: Again, we’ve taken the extra step. The DS office has taken the extra step —
QUESTION: But the allegation in the memo that —
MS. PSAKI: We will let that process unwind.
QUESTION: Because if someone – fair enough, but I mean, the whole idea is that the investigations – that people might be being pressured into terminating an investigation or dropping it just because they’re told to improperly. So, you could say —
MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve – well, what I said —
QUESTION: — that all the cases are being investigated, and —
MS. PSAKI: — earlier, so let me point back to this, Matt —
QUESTION: — both could be true.
MS. PSAKI: — is that we’ve disputed the notion of the issue of the firewall with the OIG office.
MS. PSAKI: We would never condone this. As an extra step, the DS has asked them to look into this.
QUESTION: I understand, but I just —
MS. PSAKI: We’ll let this play out.
QUESTION: I just want to make sure and clear that you deny the allegation in the memo that there was political or some kind of pressure put on investigators to drop cases or to —
QUESTION: Undue pressure.
QUESTION: — undue pressure to —
MS. PSAKI: Again, I don’t have anything —
QUESTION: That’s not correct.
MS. PSAKI: — more to add than what I’ve already added on this case.
QUESTION: Can I ask just two sort of housekeeping questions on this? Number one: Is there anything in CBS News reporting this morning, either on TV or online, that the Department of State disputes?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m going to get into parsing this CBS story here. I think I’ve laid out what our position is, the steps we’ve taken. Some of that wasn’t included in the report, so I would – in the report this morning, so I would point you to that.
QUESTION: Let the record reflect I didn’t ask you to parse anything, I just asked if you had any problems with the accuracy of the report. As you know, your colleague, Mr. Ventrell, seated to the side of the podium today, has on certain occasions – and all spokesmen from time to time find it within their rights to say when they think something has been inaccurately reported. I wasn’t asking you to parse anything, but let the record also reflect you have nothing that you want to raise as an issue with the CBS News reporting on this subject, unless you interrupt me to the contrary.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what I just said, to answer your question, is that there was information, including the fact that we have been looking into these cases, what we’ve asked the IG to do and to undertake, that are important, relevant components of that. I’d have to look back closely at the story, but those are important pieces for everybody to note in their reporting moving forward.
QUESTION: Lastly, you stated earlier that the decision to retain these outside law enforcement types was one that was taken officially long before the Department of State was contacted by CBS News.
MS. PSAKI: That’s not what I said. What I said – and sorry, I know this is – there’s a lot of details here in that the Department – Diplomatic Security had been looking into these cases. Separately, they had also asked – has taken the further step of asking for an additional review by outside, experienced law enforcement officers on top of the OIG investigation, so working with the OIG investigation —
QUESTION: And that latter —
QUESTION: This is what —
QUESTION: Excuse me. Excuse me. That latter decision to retain those outside types, you stated earlier in this briefing, was made, quote, “long before we were contacted by CBS News.” That’s what you said.
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: When were you contacted by CBS News?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m going to get into that from here.
QUESTION: Hold on a second.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: This is why I wanted to clarify this right after Arshad’s last question. It is not the OIG that is contracted or otherwise arranged with this law enforcement – outside law enforcement to do this review. It is DS itself. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: No, I believe it’s the IG is working with these —
QUESTION: All right. Because that’s not what you just said.
MS. PSAKI: It was perhaps phrased in a confusing way. So I apologize for that.
QUESTION: So it is —
MS. PSAKI: But the IG is doing the independent report on this. They are working with outside law enforcement folks.
QUESTION: So if – so in other words, DS still thinks there’s no problem?
MS. PSAKI: DS continues to look into these cases where relevant.
QUESTION: Right, but they think there’s no problem. As you said, they dispute the finding of the IG.
MS. PSAKI: They support the effort —
QUESTION: So they —
MS. PSAKI: — to do the additional investigation.
QUESTION: Does the fact that the Ambassador in Belgium is still in place speak to where the case is and what progress?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything for you on that.