Posted: 12:47 am ET
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So you’ve heard about that purported “glitch” from a Jen Psaki daily press briefing episode where some eight minutes of happy went missing? On June 1, John Kirby, Ms. Psaki’s successor as official spox at the State Department, had the embarrassing chore of having to admit publicly that “there was a deliberate request – that this wasn’t a technical glitch; this was a deliberate request to excise video.” Apparently, one of the editors at the Bureau of Public Affairs “does not remember anything other than that the caller was passing on a request from somewhere else in the bureau.” Mr. Kirby also says that “there were no rules governing this sort of action in the past. So again, I find no reason to press forward with a more formal or deeper investigation.”
We disagree. This is a big deal. People will remember that the State Department did snip/doctor/whatchamacallit it’s own video. It’s like remembering one of Ms. Psaki’s old hits It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Not Superman On a Nantucket Boat Or How to Make a Non-News Into Big News. After that boat incident, it was a hard slog listening to her briefings.
So we think it’s important for Mr. Kirby to find out exactly what happened here– who did what when — because it goes to the credibility of his shop and the records of the State Department. Was this request made just this one time? Or how often has this request to tinker with public records been made in the past? And who in the Public Affairs bureau can make such requests? A clerk? A secretary? A senior advisor? A personal assistant to somebody? Excuse me, the mailman?
Look — the only reason no one would remember who made this request is if this were a common practice; if there were so many requests that the video editor or editors have difficulty sorting out where the requests came from. But if this case is an isolated one, if this has never been done before, and was never done again since then — well, whoever made thee snip would have a certain recollection of who made the request and why. You remember what’s out of the ordinary.
And by the way, even if there are “no rules governing this type of action,” there is a certain expectation that public records –including public briefings which routinely include policy pronouncements — are faithful records/transcriptions of events. Unless the State Department can fully account for what happened, the next time there really is a “glitch”, no one will be buying it. More than anything else, that’s the reason why it needs to find out the real cause of the “glitch” here.
QUESTION: There were a couple questions yesterday that I wanted to close off. First, has there been any conclusion on missing tape from – I think it was a December 2013 briefing. When it was posted online, it had a few minutes that were cut out of it. Has there been any resolution on how that happened?
MR KIRBY: Yes, and thank you for that question, Brad. As many of you know – and I want to be specific on this, so I’m going to refer to my notes a little bit – as many of you know, and as some of you have brought to our attention, a portion of the State Department’s December 2nd, 2013 press briefing was missing from the video that we posted on our YouTube account and on our website. That missing portion covered a series of questions about U.S. negotiations with Iran. When alerted to this, I immediately directed the video to be restored in its entirety with the full and complete copy that exists and had existed since the day of the briefing on the Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System website, otherwise known as DVIDS.
I also verified that the full transcript of the briefing, which we also post on our website, was intact and had been so since the date of the briefing. I asked the Office of the Legal Adviser to look at this, including a look at any rules that we had in place. 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. 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.
QUESTION: Do you —
MR KIRBY: I’m not – let me just finish.
QUESTION: Sorry, I didn’t know.
MR KIRBY: I got a little bit more. No, sorry.
QUESTION: It was a dramatic pause. Excuse me.
MR KIRBY: No, I was just turning the page. (Laughter.) Specifically, we are going to make clear that all video and transcripts from daily press briefings will be immediately and permanently archived in their entirety, and that in the unlikely event that narrow, compelling circumstances require edits to be made, such as the inadvertent release of privacy-protected information, they will only be made with the express permission of the assistant secretary of state for public affairs and with an appropriate level of annotation and disclosure. I have communicated this new policy to my staff and it takes effect immediately.
QUESTION: Do you know when the edit – or the cut, I should say – occurred? Was it some point afterwards? Was it the same day?
MR KIRBY: To the best of our knowledge the edit was done the same day.
QUESTION: And how do you know that it was deliberately removed, as you said?
MR KIRBY: As I understand it, the request was made – again, back in 2013 – over the phone.
MR KIRBY: 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.
QUESTION: And are you doing any – I mean, there would – as you said, there was no rules about this, but are you nevertheless investigating further to figure out who did this and why?
MR KIRBY: The short answer, Brad, is no. As I said, there were no rules in place at the time 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. My focus as the assistant secretary going forward is going to be making sure that we have in place clear policies and procedures that prevent this sort of thing from happening again.
QUESTION: Is there any way – can I follow up on this? Is there any way for you to track all the phone calls that were made to the individual who received that request on that date? And if so, did you try to – did the Office of the Legal Adviser try to do that so as to establish who may have made the request?
MR KIRBY: I know of no such technology here that exists that would allow you to do that. And no, that effort was not pursued. Again, it’s important to remember there were no rules governing this sort of action in the past. So again, I find no reason to press forward with a more formal or deeper investigation. What matters to me – and I take it seriously – is our commitment to transparency and disclosure, and so we’re going to make sure – again, I communicated this this morning to the staff – we’re going to make sure that this kind of thing can’t happen again.
QUESTION: No, I get that. I guess clearly somebody, however, is not as committed to transparency and disclosure as you are, and 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 bowdlerize the record.
MR KIRBY: Well —
QUESTION: Even if there weren’t rules, it’s – it stands to common sense and your own inclinations that you be transparent. So I don’t understand why you wouldn’t try to find out who tried to subvert what has historically been the transparency of the department in these matters.
MR KIRBY: But we did. We tried. And, I mean, that’s why I asked the Office of the Legal Adviser to look at this. I wanted somebody outside the bureau to take an independent look at it, and they did, and they – they tried to pursue it. But, I mean, it was three years ago, and the individual who took the call just simply doesn’t have a better memory of it. And there were no rules, no regulations in place that prohibited this. So I feel like we did due diligence, we did take a look at this, we did try to find out what happened.
And, frankly, we did learn quite a bit, right? We learned that there was a deliberate request – that this wasn’t a technical glitch; this was a deliberate request to excise video. And as I said, I – and I said it this morning to the staff: I don’t find that to be an appropriate step to take. So again, my focus is going to be on the future and making sure that we have the right rules in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
QUESTION: John —
QUESTION: One other one from me to just —
QUESTION: — has there been any conclusion with regard to —
QUESTION: One other one from me, please. Do you believe, going back to the issue of transparency and your commitment to it – as you’re aware, the excised portion was with regard to a previous State Department briefing in which the spokesperson was asked whether there were secret negotiations underway between the United States and Iran, and replied no. Were they telling the truth? Were they being transparent and accurate when they made that statement?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to re-litigate past briefings. The excised portion, though, was not – you’re talking about the – you’re talking about an exchange with who was then the spokesman at the time, Ms. Nuland, who was asked that specific question —
MR KIRBY: — and whose answer was no.
QUESTION: And the excised portion —
MR KIRBY: The excised portion was —
QUESTION: — dealt with —
MR KIRBY: — was a year or so – almost a year later.
QUESTION: Right, but it was about the previous – it was about the prior briefing.
MR KIRBY: It was about that previous exchange.
MR KIRBY: Yeah. I’m sorry, I lost the question again.
QUESTION: Well, the question is: Was the prior spokesperson – not the one whose —
MR KIRBY: Portion was excised.
QUESTION: — words were excised, but the other one – telling the truth about when they said no, there were no – I think the exact quote was, “No.” They were asked are there secret negotiations between the United States and Iran on the nuclear issue and the answer was no.
MR KIRBY: I have – again – I’ve only been at the State Department a year, so I can’t speak to events as they developed well before I got here. But I have been preceded in this job by two extraordinary spokespeople who are people of character and integrity and extremely professional in the conduct of their duties, and I have no doubt that on both of the previous occasions that we’re talking about that they were doing their jobs credibly, honestly, and with integrity.
QUESTION: Can I just ask if there were any other – this example was only discovered by, I think, the reporter who asked the question —
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: — back in 2013. So have you asked and found out if there were other examples? Was this a regular thing, going back and changing videos?
MR KIRBY: We – I’m not aware of any other instance where this happened before.
MR KIRBY: But I can’t tell you with great certainty, Brad, that it never happened before. I’m not aware of any.
MR KIRBY: And I don’t have – we don’t have the time or the resources to go back and look at every single briefing from the past. But I’m not aware of any.
QUESTION: Can we just – last thing on this – clarify with regard to – has there been any conclusion with regard to what the motivation was for excising?
MR KIRBY: No. As I said at the top, we don’t know who made the request and we don’t know why.
QUESTION: But I know we don’t know who, but I mean, we know what was taken out.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know.
QUESTION: Do we know why it would’ve been taken out?
MR KIRBY: I do not know.
QUESTION: And do you —
QUESTION: And just to clarify, it’s back? It’s back?
MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Just to clarify, the video is back on the website?
MR KIRBY: It is. It is.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject.
MR KIRBY: I think Arshad had one more.
QUESTION: Do you know why the request was exceeded – was acceded to? I mean, why wasn’t there pushback like, “No, the State Department has for many, many years now put out honest, faithful transcriptions and video of what transpires in the briefing.” Do you – did you ask the person who took the call, “Hey, why didn’t say, ‘No, we don’t do that?’”
MR KIRBY: I – because there were no rules in place, I’m going to – I’m – there were no rules in place prohibiting it, so I’m really not able to get into any more detail in terms of the decision process that went on when the request was made. All I can go back and tell you is that looking at it from my vantage point, this was not an appropriate step to take and we’re going to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.
QUESTION: But John, how can you know about the decision – I mean, I understand that you don’t want to talk about it, but how can you know about the decision-making process on how it was decided and not know who asked for the request to be made?
MR KIRBY: Because the individual who was in receipt of the request does not remember. I mean, it was three years ago. Does not remember —
QUESTION: There’s no record of an email exchange?
MR KIRBY: As far as I know and as far as I understand it, after talking to the Office of the Legal Advisor who looked into this for me, this was – this request was made over the phone.
QUESTION: But this – there’s no proof? I mean, it’s a little strange. Somebody – so the person you spoke to admitted cutting it from the tape and said somebody they can’t remember told them to do that. They didn’t know their position, how senior they were, have any indication of their authority to ask them that —
MR KIRBY: Well, as I said —
QUESTION: — and then they just said, “Well, I did it, but somebody I can’t remember told me to do it.”
MR KIRBY: As I said —
QUESTION: That seems a little fishy, right?
MR KIRBY: The recipient doesn’t remember anything other than that the caller was passing on a request from somewhere else in the bureau. And that’s – that’s —
QUESTION: In what bureau?
MR KIRBY: That is the most information that we were able to glean.
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. You said – I’m sorry, I don’t remember if you said this before, but you said a request was made from someone in the bureau. So it was made from someone in PA?
MR KIRBY: Was as – 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.
QUESTION: From what you’re aware of it was a one-of-a-kind request, and would the editor forget a one-of-a-kind request? I mean, as I understand, you’re saying you’re not aware of any other occasions —
MR KIRBY: Look, all I can do is tell you what the individual, when asked, could remember. I mean, I can’t do more than that. And again, this happened three years ago.
QUESTION: Well, did the legal – did the legal advisor ask other then-top officials in PA whether they made that request?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to get into the specific details about —
QUESTION: Well, but it does go to what’s– how – how thorough the investigation on this was.
MR KIRBY: This wasn’t an investigation. Remember, Elise, there were no rules governing this.
QUESTION: Just – c’mon, 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.
MR KIRBY: There were no rules —
QUESTION: So I’m sorry that there were no rules, but I don’t really think that just because there’s no rule on certain things doesn’t – and you’ve said from this podium there was no rule on Secretary Clinton not using emails, but it was the wrong thing to do. So I don’t think that —
MR KIRBY: And as I’ve said, I don’t find this to be the appropriate step to have taken either. But I asked the Office of the Legal Advisor to look into this; they did. They pursued it for me, and we got about as far as we can go. The individual who took the call doesn’t remember anything more than that it was being passed on from somebody else in the Public Affairs Bureau. I don’t – I cannot be any more specific than that right now.
And what my focus is – as I said, I acknowledge that that step – and I don’t know what the motivation was, but it wasn’t an appropriate step to take. It’s not, as I said, in keeping with our obligations to be transparent and to be publicly accountable for the information that comes from this podium as well as all the other means of information that we distribute here at the State Department.
So what I’m going to do is put in place – I mean, I already have starting this morning, but I’m going to further look at the potential for crafting specific language that we can put in the Foreign Affairs Manual so that we can institutionalize an approach to this that prevents it from happening again. My focus has got to be on making sure that going forward we can prevent this from happening again.