Congress Wants to Know More About @StateDept’s “Casserole”, Then the DPB Goes Down the Wabbit Hole

Posted: 3:10 am ET
Updated: June 7, 2016 11:33 pm ET
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Oh, dear!  CNN’s Jake Tapper is now using the word “casserole” in reference to the State Department’s video tampering.

If you’re late on this, see the Washington Examiner’s timeline below:

The former spokesperson of the Department, Jen Psaki, who is now the White House Communications Director denied any knowledge of the deliberate snips:

Ms. Psaki’s deputy at that time, Marie Harf, who is now Senior Advisor for Strategic Communications to Secretary Kerry has also issued a denial.

Ms. Psaki and Ms. Harf’s then boss, Doug Frantz who was the Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs and now Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD in Paris, also knew nothing of the episode.

WaPo’s Erik Wemple asks, “Does there even need to be a rule when it comes to messing with the public record?” He did not minced words when he did his best scolding to-date: “Top government officials publishing their own professions of innocence: That’s just one of the upshots of a shoddy, good-for-nothing, incomplete, unworthy probe.” Ouch! What he said!

So apparently, this has not escaped the attention of the folks in Congress. House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) sent a letter to the State Department’s Inspector General (IG), Steve Linick, to request an investigation into the deliberate omission of portions of a State Department press briefing video. We’ve asked State/OIG about a potential investigation. The office declined to comment on this specific issue but did say “We take seriously all congressional requests.”

House Oversight and Government Reform (HOGR) Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) also sent a letter to Secretary Kerry requesting documents from the State Department that are 1) sufficient to identify, by name and job title, the individual or individuals who made and received the request to deliberately delete the video footage; 2) All documents and communications referring or relating to the deletion of video footage; 3) All documents and communications referring or relating  to other requests to delete portions of daily press briefings from publicly-accessible portals since January 1, 2012.

This is going to be a long summer, folks.

By June 3rd, our traveling Secretary of State while  in Paris, finally waded on the issue afflicting his agency for the first time:

“Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that whoever doctored several minutes of videotape from a State Department news briefing about the Iran nuclear negotiations was “stupid and clumsy and inappropriate.”

So Secretary Kerry seems to think that eight minutes of snipped footage is “stupid and clumsy.” Rather an inconvenient minor controversy, but not really a big deal, is it?

Asked in the AP article if he would fire the person responsible, Secretary Kerry reportedly said, “I would like to find out exactly what happened and why.” He said he didn’t want someone like that working for him.

Wait — but no one knows who did it, so how is he going to “find out exactly what happened and why” when the internal “investigation” is already over?

This brings us to the DPB on Friday, June 3 which is really hard to watch:

Public Trust Issue

QUESTION: It’s not a – I don’t think – the point is not that the – whether a specific rule or regulation was broken, but it’s kind of a – it’s a public trust issue that was broken, credibility that was broken issue here. It didn’t have to be about this. It could have been about anything. It could have been about aid to Borneo. It’s not the – I know that a lot of people are saying that it’s more important, perhaps, because it was about the Iran negotiations, but in fact any deletion or editing of any part of a briefing on any subject should be wrong and not acceptable. Isn’t that correct?

MR TONER: So a couple of points on that – a couple of points on that. First of all – and we’ve said this from day one, when this allegations or this incident first came to light – one product, a video, was edited. We have acknowledged that and we have made steps to correct the policy going forward so that that never happens again. But there was always a transcript available of that briefing and there was always a video available of the full briefing on DVIDS. So I understand – and I understand and I appreciate the tough questions that you all are asking us in this room, and we are doing our best to answer, but there’s a lot of overblown rhetoric beyond this room about what happened and what transpired. We believe we have conducted an inquiry into what happened. We don’t have the answers, ultimately, why this was done or why this was requested. And so like many of you, we’re asking ourselves the same questions, but we don’t have any further leads to investigate. So we’re at a – as I said yesterday – a bit of a dead end. But we’re going to continue to, as we get information, more information, we’ll pursue that. But what’s important here is that we take steps so it doesn’t happen in the future.

Mindful of the Privacy of Individuals Involved: WTH?

QUESTION: Yeah. Did the Office of the Legal Adviser seek to find out if there were telephone records?

MR TONER: They did not.

QUESTION: Okay. Why not?

MR TONER: Well, again, because, Arshad, it returns to the point I was trying to make with Matt, which is, as regrettable as this incident was – and we’ve acknowledged that – they – there wasn’t a legal premise on which to base a further investigation into the incident. We did interview the person, who, by the way, came forward and offered their recollection of what happened. But beyond that we didn’t feel like we – or they – the legal office didn’t feel like they needed to pursue this further – did not have the grounds to pursue this further.

QUESTION: So – well, but either you want to find out or you don’t. And if you want to find out, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t ask a question that even somebody like me, who’s not a lawyer and doesn’t – would think of, which is, gee, maybe there’s a record here since this involves a phone call. And I don’t understand why they wouldn’t – I understand that you don’t have a broken rule or a broken law. What I don’t understand – I mean, this all goes to credibility, and if the idea is to do a credible review, even if it’s not an investigation, why wouldn’t you turn over every stone?

MR TONER: Well, again, I think we also have to be mindful of the privacy of individuals involved and we also have to be mindful of the authority by which we can carry out any kind of, again, examination of what happened. And there was no legal basis on which to continue to look into this incident.

Now, like I said, if we get more information, new information, and we would certainly pursue that.

Wabbit Hole: How many other people have been ruled out?

QUESTION: But basically, all the person could remember was that they were called and asked to do this, and that they believed it came from elsewhere in PA. I’m told that the person also, however, said that they had no – that they didn’t think it was former spokesperson Jen Psaki. Is that correct?

MR TONER: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Why weren’t we told that on Wednesday? I mean, you said all they can remember is X, but now it turns out it – they remembered more than just X. And I don’t understand why you would say they only remember X and then it turns out they remember more than that, and then we – we learn about it later.

MR TONER: It’s a legitimate point, Arshad, and one we have now obviously corrected by putting that out there. Look, I think we were concerned by some of the coverage that Jen Psaki was being sullied by allegations that she somehow – this came from her. And so we recognized that we needed to very clearly refute that point, and so we did.

QUESTION: Did the person recollect anything else about the communication that they received that we have not been told? Did they say, for example – and I – that they recollected that anybody else – that it wasn’t anybody else specifically? Did they remember that it wasn’t the deputy spokesperson at the time or that it wasn’t the assistant secretary at the time?

MR TONER: To my knowledge, no, that there was no other – that —

QUESTION: Pertinent information?

MR TONER: — pertinent information conveyed, but we have since seen that – and you have also seen this – that the deputy spokesperson at the time, Marie Harf, and others – the assistant secretary at the time – have all come out and said that they had no parts in this.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, I’m asking because I want to know if there was anything —

MR TONER: Yeah, I understand —

QUESTION: — as they remember it.

MR TONER: I understand why you’re asking.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR TONER: I will triple-check that, but that is my understanding, is that – that’s —

QUESTION: Well, is there anyone else you can rule out?

MR TONER: You mean – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, the only person that you guys feel comfortable – seem to be comfortable ruling out as the source of this is Jen. Is that correct, or are you able to extend that to other people? And if so, how many other people have been ruled out?

MR TONER: Well, again, part of – this is the reason why we don’t want to go down this rabbit hole.

QUESTION: Well, but you went down this slippery slope —

MR TONER: I understand that. I understand that.

QUESTION: — by saying this is who didn’t do it.

MR TONER: I understand that, but that was part of the reason why we didn’t get into this information in the first place. I mean, to the extent that what this individual shared in terms of who she spoke with and who she was able to rule out or to confirm that was not on the other end of the line or was not part of this, it’s only been Jen. But other people have, as you know, stepped forward and said —

As a general matter, there is any State Department rule against lying to someone conducting an internal review. Is there?

MR TONER: Lying against anyone conducting an internal review?

QUESTION: Lying to anyone – if somebody is conducting an internal review, is there a rule against lying to them?

MR TONER: I would presume so, yes. I don’t have – I apologize.

QUESTION: Can – no, it’s okay.

MR TONER: I will check on that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. I mean, it’s in the same category of if you don’t have a rule —

MR TONER: No, I understood.

QUESTION: — then – yeah, okay. So I would like to know if there is. If there isn’t, maybe you would want to institute such a rule, but – yeah.

MR TONER: No, I – and just to take that one step further, I mean, this is an organization in which the majority of people have security clearances, and all of those require significant background checks, but also require people to be interviewed on occasional basises and tell – be truthful about – in those interviews, so I would presume it to be the case.

 

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