Posted: 3:21 am ET
State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert assumed her position on April 25, 2017 (see Heather Nauert: From Fox News Channel to State Department Spokesperson). On the same day that Secretary Tillerson and Under Secretary Goldstein (see Steve Goldstein Assumes Charge as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs) were both fired, the White House also publicly designated Heather Nauert as Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R). Her official bio notes that “She will continue to serve as State Department Spokesperson.”
Ms. Nauert may not get any sleep for the next six months (must see story of the day also has a State/GEC connection). Or if as the White House told a reporter, “Heather is the only one at State we trust” what’s the likelihood that this acting position becomes a permanent appointment subject to Senate confirmation, of course?
She just skipped over her new boss at Public Affairs, and she will be dual-hatted as “R” and as spokesperson until a new nominee is confirmed. How long is that going to take? Goldstein was announced as “R” nominee in September 2017 but did not get through the confirmation process and assume office until December 2017. We have seen PA dual hatted as spox, but we don’t think we’ve ever had an R dual hatted as spox (Margaret D. Tutwiler did serve as R and Public Affairs but not concurrently, though she was dual hatted as PA/spox).
If the online details of the R bureau are current, of the fourteen senior positions currently under Ms. Nauert, five are currently vacant, five are encumbered by career officials, and four are recent political appointments from Trump campaign/connections that include Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michelle Giuda (Gingrich), DAS for Digital Strategy in the Bureau of Public Affairs Len Khodorkovsky (campaign), DAS for Strategic Communications in the Bureau of Public Affairs Adrienne Ross (?) and Senior Advisor for Public Engagement in the Bureau of Public Affairs Kathryn Wellner (campaign).
Six bureaus and offices report to the Acting Under Secretary:Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA-nominee pending); Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP-no nominee announced)); Bureau of Public Affairs (PA-filled); Office of Policy, Planning and Resources (R/PPR); Expo Unit (EXPO) and the Global Engagement Center (GEC-no nominee announced).
One senior R adviser who recently left State notes the potential fallout from the Goldstein firing (see The Other Firing At State And What That Means).
…the Department's Global Engagement Center, is managed by acting civil service and foreign service staff who reported directly to Goldstein. From The Other Firing At State And What That Means
via @grahamlampa https://t.co/pp9OlaU2O0
— Diplopundit (@Diplopundit) March 16, 2018
— Josh Lederman (@joshledermanAP) March 18, 2018
A top state department job goes to a cable TV host from Fox & Friends — the show where Kellyanne shills for Ivanka's clothes. What did we expect when a TV reality show host became president?https://t.co/kdHrniN6A1
— Richard W. Painter (@RWPUSA) March 16, 2018
WH official told me earlier today: “Heather is the only one at State we trust.” https://t.co/YuTfUopm2s
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) March 13, 2018
— Conor Finnegan (@cjf39) March 13, 2018
— Matt Lee (@APDiploWriter) March 14, 2018
Trump installs former 'Fox & Friends' host as under secretary of state. The WH Heather Nauert as acting under secretary for public diplomacy, “Heather is the only one at State we trust.”
— AsperGirl, Under Attack by LW Trolls (@AsperGirl) March 14, 2018
Posted: 5:02 am ET
According to a State/HR workforce document, the actual retirements and retirement projections for the Foreign Service are as follows:
- FY2015: 186 FSOs/178 FSSs retirements (or a total of 364) – actual
- FY2016: 229 FSOs/185 FSSs (or 414 total, average 34 retirements/month) – projection
- FY2017: 219 FSO/187 FSSs (or 406 total/ave 34 retirements/mo) – projection
- FY2018: 195 FSOs/193 FSSs (388 total/ave of 32 retirements/mo) – projection
For non-retirement separations (including resignations), the actual number for non-retirements separation and non-retirement separation projections for the Foreign Service are as follows:
- FY2015: 93 FSOs/82 FSSs (a total of 175) – actual
- FY2016: 61 FSOs/43 FSSs (104 or 9 ave separations/month) – projection
- FY2017: 56 FSOs/39 FSSs (95 or 8 ave separations/mo) – projection
- FY2018: 57 FSOs/36 FSSs (93 or 8 ave separations/mo) – projection
The spokesperson gave the press an update on retirements, but the numbers did not include non-retirement separation (this includes resignations, transfers, and deaths, as well as “selection out” of tenured employees and non-tenured decisions for entry level FS employees). If journalists simply ask for the resignation number, that number would only be one component of the non-retirement separation data.
The State Department’s DGHR has the actual numbers of retirements/non-retirement separations of Foreign Service officers and specialists for FY15, FY16, FY17, and FY18-todate. It should release those numbers. It will allow us to get a comparative view of attrition in the State Department. It will also allow us to see if the retirement/non-retirement separations are within the projected numbers made by its HR professionals in late 2016. Why? Because the agency’s own HR folks projected that the average annual FS attrition over the next five years will essentially mirror the average annual attrition of the previous five years. Obviously, that will no longer be the case with the looming staff reduction and buyouts but FY16-FY17 would still be useful markers to look at.
Since the State Department has pushed back on the narrative that the State Department has been gutted, here is its chance for some real show and tell. Somewhere in DGHR’s bullpen, somebody has these numbers and can potentially see a trend if there is one. But if we have those numbers, we, the public can also look for ourselves and decide if the “sky is falling” or if this is just a normal part of the plan.
But you know, even if the numbers show that State is not “gutted” now, even if the numbers are at par with last year’s, at some future time when the staff reduction and buyouts are fully in effect, over 2000 positions will still be eliminated from the State Department. We understand that State/HR has been sending “some serious signaling” — making reps available, sending links to necessary forms for retirements, transfers or reassignments, links to retirement courses at FSI, contact info for employee benefits, etc. So we can talk about retirement numbers all we want, that staffing reduction plan is marching on.
The State Department needs about 1,700 employees to leave through attrition, and some 600 to leave via buyouts. If the spokesperson is right, that the retirement in 2017 is “roughly on par with the number that retired in 2016” then … wait — does that mean that it’s staff reduction plan has not moved the needle? Which is it? Can’t have it both ways, folks.
Via DPB, December 12, 2017:
QUESTION: — I was interested in listening to hear for updated figures, if you all have them, about retirements, resignations over the course of the past 11 months. He didn’t really address that. There was one brief mention of the size of the Foreign Service being roughly the same as it was at this point last year.
MS NAUERT: I do have some numbers for you, some updated numbers for you. But I want you all to keep in mind that these numbers are constantly changing. As people make decisions about retiring, we may see some new changes – or some new numbers in the coming weeks. But I do have an update for you. But go ahead, finish – if you want to finish the question —
QUESTION: Well, that’s – I just —
MS NAUERT: That’s it? Okay. So —
QUESTION: I’d like one more, but that’s the – but not about the numbers.
MS NAUERT: Okay. All right. I’ll take the numbers first and then we’ll go to your next one and get to everybody else. In terms of our career Foreign Service officers and specialists, here are some of the preliminary accounts that we have – counts, pardon me. From February the 1st to October the 31st of 2017, 274 career Foreign Service officers and specialists have retired during that time period. That is roughly on par with the number that retired in 2016. That number was 262. So 274 this year, up till October the 31st, that same time period last year was 262.
QUESTION: What about resignations?
MS NAUERT: Uh, let’s see. Retirements – I’m not sure that I have anything on actual resignations.
QUESTION: Well, you’re probably aware that in recent days there’s been a flurry of new reports about the – about mid- to lower-level people resigning out of frustration, anger —
MS NAUERT: I saw one news article about —
QUESTION: — disappointment.
MS NAUERT: — a woman who retired in Africa, or decided to step down.
QUESTION: Well, she didn’t retire; she resigned.
MS NAUERT: She resigned; pardon me.
QUESTION: So I’m curious to know about numbers of resignations rather than retirements because if you look – if someone resigns rather than retires, and doesn’t have benefits, is not vested, that’s – it’s a little bit different than a retirement. So I’d be curious, if it’s possible, to get the numbers of resignations of —
MS NAUERT: I will – I will certainly check in with our human resources people and see what I can find for you in terms of the number of resignations that we’ve had.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the last one, which will be also very brief, was that the Secretary, in response to some question, I believe, made a mention of how staffing at posts, some posts in Europe – and I think he named London, Paris, and Rome – might go down as people are repositioned. I’m wondering if this is in any way analogous to what former Secretary of State Rice put in place with this – her concept of transformational diplomacy, where she also talked about shifting significant numbers of diplomats from European capitals to places of – India, Indonesia, Pakistan, rising places. And if it is analogous, how? Because it – her initiative was not combined with a goal of reducing staffing by 8 percent.
MS NAUERT: Okay. Well, first of all, I wouldn’t compare what the Secretary mentioned today to what Secretary Rice had done in the past. And I say that because the Secretary now – Secretary Tillerson – has looked at some of our posts, some of our very, very well-staffed posts in places like Paris and London and elsewhere, and certainly they do great work there. But we also have posts where perhaps more people are needed, where there are perhaps issues that are very pressing that need a lot more attention.
So I think as the Secretary looks at some of these bigger posts in very well-off countries, industrialized countries where the issues aren’t as grave as in other places, he’s looking to maybe see if we can reconfigure things to put more people in posts where there may be more people needed.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MS NAUERT: So that’s why I wouldn’t compare it to Secretary Rice’s. Yeah, hi, Nick.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, he said that there would be no office closures. Does – is he saying now that there will be no closures of consulates in countries in Europe as part of this shift in resources?
MS NAUERT: I don’t think so. I think – and we’ve spoken about this in the past. I think he’s just looking at it, saying, hey, look. Look at Paris. Look at London, where – I don’t know what the numbers are, and you know we don’t announce those numbers anyway. But they’re – it’s a huge staff in some of these places. And if you look at that and compare it to – and this is just me saying this – if you compare it to a place like Pakistan, they might need more people in Pakistan. They might need more people in Venezuela. They might need more people elsewhere than they have in these beautiful postings like Paris.
Posted: 12:55 am ET
— Department of State (@StateDept) December 5, 2017
Great!Now let's see a Daily Press Briefing everyday of the week, a traveling press with the Secretary, & get DOS officials to follow your social media rules of self-identifying as such in their official accounts, & not/not use their personal accounts when speaking for USG. Thanks
— Diplopundit (@Diplopundit) December 6, 2017
When we honestly engage people around the world we are more likely to find fair solutions to shared problems and less likely to go to war.
— Steve Goldstein (@UnderSecPD) September 29, 2017
In the end, yr tenure will be judged by your ability to help the US accumulate influence. Does your program build trust/credence to US officials specifically, & US culture overall, or does it undermine it? What you say, your posture and vision will be crucial to defining success.
— Rob Bole (@rbole) December 4, 2017
Since your work experience is in "branding," tell us, how to you plan to rebrand the U.S. under #IMPOTUS Trump? He has gutted our international reputation, alienated allies, and generally appalled thinking people across the globe.
— Pat Colsher (@PatColsher) December 5, 2017
Posted: 4:25 am ET
Foreign Policy recently did a piece on the Stephen Akard appointment as DGHR, calling him a “Pence pal”:
A State Department spokesman pushed back on the criticisms, saying his nomination is “an indication of how committed the Trump administration is to improving how the federal government operates and delivers on its mission.” […] Akard “has a unique background in both foreign affairs as well as a successful track record managing a large state government agency,” the State Department spokesman told FP. “If confirmed, we believe his experience will benefit the men and women of the State Department,” the spokesman added. Akard left the foreign service in 2005 to work for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation.
The State Department spox told FP that Akard’s “unique background” and “successful track record managing a large state government agency” will “benefit” the State Department.
So hey, that got us curious about just how big is the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) where Mr. Akard previously worked as ” chief of staff, vice president and general counsel, and director of international development” from 2005 -2017. We asked IEDC how may employees support the state corporation but we have not received a response as of this writing.
However, based on the State of Indiana Employee Directory (PDF here, pages not numbered, so use the “find” function), there are some 15 offices within IEDC. These offices include Account Management with seven employees; Communications with three staffers; Policy with five employees, and the largest office in IEDC, Business Development has 16 staffers. About 80 state employees are listed as working in the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC). How many of these employees did Mr. Akard actually managed? And even if he did manage the entire IEDC and its over 80 employees — c’mon spoxes –the DGHR manages over 75,000 Foreign Service, Civil Service and locally employed staff. Good grief!
A Pence pal is getting a State Department job normally given to senior career diplomats.https://t.co/9iW94KIZrC
— Foreign Policy (@ForeignPolicy) November 1, 2017
The spox needs a better argument on why they think this nominee is the best individual to lead DGHR; the defense they currently have — citing the management of “a large state government agency” with less than a hundred employees is just plain pen-pineapple-apple-pen-silly.
I'm not kidding! This is the guy Japan hired for Trump's personal entertainment while he visits Japan. 🤦😹👇https://t.co/Bx0NOQIKfo
— Margo Jones (@3DTruth) October 30, 2017
Posted: 12:49 am ET
Mark Toner is a career Foreign Service Officer who has served overseas in West Africa and Europe. He was the Information Officer in Dakar, Senegal; the Public Affairs Officer in Krakow, Poland; and the Spokesman for the U.S. Mission to NATO, in Brussels, Belgium. On June 1, 2015, he assumed the role of Deputy Spokesperson after serving at the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs as a Deputy Assistant Secretary.
As a career FSO, Mr. Toner has previously worked as a senior advisor for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; as a Senior Watch Officer in the Department’s Operations Center; and as the Director of the European Bureau’s Press and Public Outreach Division. Mr. Toner has an undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame and a graduate degree from National Defense University’s Industrial College of the Armed Forces. Prior to joining the State Department, he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia, West Africa, and carried out graduate work in Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.
As Deputy Spokesperson, he is one of the most public faces of the State Department. He did his last Daily Press Briefing on April 27, 2017:
Via DPB, April 27, 2017
This is, believe it or not, my last briefing as deputy spokesman. It’s with mixed feelings that I reach this moment, because I’ve loved this job. Honestly, I was just telling a group of young kids who were brought in to Take Your Child to Work Day earlier today that, to me, this was the greatest honor that I could ever hope to have as a Foreign Service officer. I came out of journalism school into this gig, and I always thought this would be one of the greatest jobs to have within the Foreign Service. And I’ve enjoyed working with all of you over the years through good times and bad times and some really tough days at the podium, but I respect fundamentally with all of my heart the work that all of you do in carrying out your really important roles in our democracy, and I want you to know that.
I’m also very, very happy that I can pass the baton, the spokesperson baton – there is one, in fact – no – (laughter) – over to such a capable person as Heather Nauert, who is getting up to speed on all these issues but will be taking the podium and carrying on the daily press briefings and acting as the department spokesperson going forward. So anyway, just appreciate all the support that you’ve given me over the years.
Matt, over to you.
QUESTION: Thanks, Mark. And before I start with my policy question, I just wanted to note the lack of children in the room today on the Take Your Work to – Take Your Kids to Work Day and recall how many years ago it was when you were sitting there with —
MR TONER: I told that story, actually. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: — with a bunch of kids in the audience and one of the main topics of the day being the antics or/ behavior of some Secret Service agents in Colombia and how delicately we danced around that topic.
MR TONER: Indeed, indeed. As we’re doing right now. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But that story also just – it brings to mind the fact that you have served in this position in PRS as spokesman on and off for many years. And I think on behalf of the press corps, I want to thank you for those years of service, particularly since January over the course of the last couple months when things have been, as they often are, in transitions, unsettled to say the least. And through it all, you’ve been incredibly professional and really just, I think, the model of the kind of career Foreign Service or Civil Service officer.
So on behalf of all of us and on behalf of the public, the American public, thank you. (Applause.)
MR TONER: Thanks, Matt. I really appreciate that. Thank you. (Applause.)
QUESTION: Good luck. And I am sure you’ll enjoy not having to be —
MR TONER: I’ll miss it in a couple weeks.
QUESTION: — attacked with questions for —
MR TONER: Thank you.
QUESTION: May I say a word, Matt?
QUESTION: I want to thank you especially – I’ve known you for many, many years. I mean, I’ve attended briefings all the way back to Richard Boucher. You have been really solid and professional. I never once took your accommodating me for granted or indulging me all throughout. I really appreciate it. You have always been there for us. So Godspeed and good luck.
MR TONER: Thank you. All right, thanks. Enough of this sentimentality. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Rank sentimentality.
MR TONER: Yeah, there you go. Rank sentimentality.
QUESTION: So let’s go to the most unsentimental thing you can think of, North Korea.
Posted: 2:26 pm ET
Updated: April 28, 10:32 pm ET
Today, the State Department announced the appointment of Heather Nauert (@HeatherNauert) as the new State Department Spokesperson. This job does not require Senate confirmation, and appears to be, once more, separate from the Assistant Secretary (A/S) position that heads the Bureau of Public Affairs. Previous assistant secretaries who were also the official spokespersons for the State Department includes Richard A. Boucher (2001–2005), Sean McCormack (2005–2009), Philip J. Crowley (2009–2011) and most recently, Admiral John F. Kirby (2015-2017). Previous assistant secretaries Michael A. Hammer (2012–2013) and Douglas Frantz (2013–2015) did not function as official spokespersons during their tenures as Assistant Secretaries for Public Affairs. Career diplomat Toria Nuland was spokesperson from 2011-2013 during the Hammer tenure, and Frantz’ tenure from 2013-2015 brought us Jen Psaki and Marie Harf.
The State Department released the following statement on Ms. Nauert’s appointment:
The Department of State is pleased to welcome Heather Nauert as the new State Department Spokesperson. Nauert comes to the Department with more than 15 years of experience as an anchor and correspondent covering both foreign and domestic news and events, including the 9-11 terror attacks, the war in Iraq, and the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Heather’s media experience and long interest in international affairs will be invaluable as she conveys the Administration’s foreign policy priorities to the American people and the world.
Prior to joining the State Department, Nauert was a New York-based Fox News Channel anchor and correspondent. On the top-rated morning cable news show, “Fox and Friends,” she was responsible for reporting breaking news. In addition, she regularly solo and co-anchored programs on Fox News and contributed to every news platform, including radio, satellite radio and internet.
Nauert joined Fox after graduating from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Domestically, Nauert reported on the past four presidential elections, including filing reports from battleground states, Republican and Democrat conventions and the inauguration. She also anchored coverage of the terror attacks in Orlando, San Bernardino, and Boston, as well as the 2008 financial crisis. Prior to joining Fox News, Nauert served as a network correspondent for ABC News, where she traveled extensively for breaking news stories in the United States and abroad. At ABC News, her in-depth piece on teenage girls in Iraq during the war was nominated for an Emmy. Before working in news, she was an advisor in the health care industry. She is a graduate of Mount Vernon College in Washington D.C.
Posted: 3:19 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]
After calling the editing mystery of the video tape “a bit of a dead end,” and after Secretary Kerry called the doctoring of the Daily Press Briefing tape “stupid and clumsy and inappropriate,” the State Department informed the press on June 8 that the agency’s Office of the Legal Adviser (L) is continuing to look into the matter.
- Congress Wants to Know More About @StateDept’s “Casserole”, Then the DPB Goes Down the Rabbit Hole
- That @StateDept Video “Glitch”? Not a Technical Glitch But “Deliberate Request to Excise Video”
- @StateDept Spox John Kirby Pens a Message to Colleagues in the Bureau of Public Affairs
- Please Quit Dancing Around the Video Probe — You Need State/OIG On “Glitch-Gate” 216 Hours Ago
On August 18, the State Department’s spox updated members of the press of the internal review. The Legal Adviser’s office apparently did talk to 30 current and former employees. The office has now come up with “a fact-finding review” that was submitted to Secretary Kerry, the Congress and the Inspector General. The review is inconclusive — spox says it was a deliberate act, they don’t know why or who was responsible for asking the “edits” but it can’t be nefarious or anything like that.
Note that HFAC Chairman Royce has previously requested an investigation by the Inspector General. If there is an OIG investigation in addition to the Legal Adviser’s review, we could be looking at dueling reports. It looks like the Legal Adviser’s review might be released publicly at some later date but the spox did not indicate when. Meanwhile, there is one lawsuit already.
Via the Daily Press Briefing with official spox John Kirby:
Finally, I want to update you on the issue of the portions of video missing from a press briefing here on the 2nd of December 2013. Now, as you know, this is something we’ve talked about before. I promised you that I would update you when we had completed our review. We’ve done that, so if you’ll bear with me, I’ll give you what I have.
As you know, when this matter came to light, many of us, including Secretary Kerry, had concerns and questions as to how and why this had happened. And so, at the Secretary’s request, the Office of the Legal Adviser spent the last several months looking deeper into the issue. All told, they have spoken with more than 30 current and former employees at all levels of seniority and they’ve gone through emails and other documents to see what information might be available. They have now compiled their findings and a description of their process into a fact-finding review, which has been provided to the Secretary. We’re also sharing it today with Congress and the inspector general.
Here’s the bottom line: We are confident the video of that press briefing was deliberately edited. The white flash that many of you have noticed yourselves in that portion of the video is evidence enough of human involvement. Indeed, a technician came forward, recalled making the edit and inserting that flash. What we were not able to determine was why the edit was made in the first place. There’s no evidence to suggest it was made with the intent to conceal information from the public, and while the technician recalls receiving a phone call requesting the edit, there is no evidence to indicate who might have placed that call or why.
In fact, throughout this process we learned additional information that could call into question any suggestion of nefarious activity. In addition to the fact that the full video was always available on DVIDS and that the full transcript was always on our website, the video was edited in a choppy manner, which made it obvious that footage was missing. We also found that the video likely was shortened very early in the process, only minutes after the briefing concluded and well before the technician who recalled making the edit believes the request was made to make the edit, and in any event before the technician would have been involved in the video production process. It is possible the white flash was inserted because the video had lost footage due to technical or electrical problems that were affecting our control room servers around that time.
Finally, we have confirmed that even if the video was edited with intent to conceal, there was no policy in place at the time prohibiting such an edit. So upon learning that, I think you know, I immediately put a policy in place to preclude that from ever happening. We will also be consulting now with the National Archives and Record Administration about whether any changes to our disposition schedule should be made to address the press briefing videos. Disposition schedules are rules governing the record – official record keeping. The current disposition schedule notes that the written transcript is a permanent record.
Now, I understand that these results may not be completely satisfying to everyone. I think we will all – we would all have preferred to arrive at clear and convincing answers. But that’s not where the evidence or the memories of so many employees about an event, which happened more than two and a half years ago, have taken us. We have to accept the facts as we have found them, learn from them, and move on.
The Secretary is confident that the Office of the Legal Adviser took this task seriously, that they examined it thoroughly, and that we have, indeed, learned valuable lessons as a result. For my part, I want to thank them as well for their diligence and professionalism. We are and I think we will be going forward a better public affairs organization for having worked our way through this.
With that, I’ll take questions.
QUESTION: All right. Well, before we move on to Syria, let’s finish up this videotape episode, or at least dig into it a little bit more. Can you remind me just from that lengthy statement – you think it was not nefarious because it was done badly and because it was done quickly? Is that the essential argument?
MR KIRBY: I said that we weren’t – we aren’t sure whether it was done with intent to conceal or whether it was done as a result of a technical problem. The bottom line is, Brad, it was inconclusive. Some of the additional information that does lead us to think that a glitch is possible here is because of the choppy nature of the cut, which is when – look, when we do the daily briefings, we always cut the top and the bottom, right? So we have an ability to do editing on the – at the beginning and the end of a briefing. Obviously, we have to do that. And we have procedures in place to do that in a nice smooth, clear, very deliberate way, so that when we post the video of today’s briefing, it looks like a totally encompassed, very professional product. So we have the ability to do this in a very professional way.
This cut was not done that way. It was done in a choppy fashion that’s not consistent with the way we typically do that. I’m not saying that that means for sure it was the result of an electrical problem. I’m just saying that it certainly gives us pause, and we have to think about that.
The other aspect of this is the timing. So roughly 18 minutes after the briefing was concluded, the video that was uploaded was shortened – shorter than the actual briefing itself – which would convey that a cut of some kind was made very, very quickly after the briefing, sooner than when the technician remembers – much sooner, actually, than when the technician remembers getting a phone call asking for the cut to be made. So again, we may be dealing with a memory issue. Maybe that’s inconsistent. Or maybe there was – there could have been a technical problem that caused the video to automatically be shortened when it was first uploaded so quickly – 18 minutes after the briefing, which is pretty fast.
So it’s not impossible or inconceivable that there was an intent to conceal information – in other words, nefarious intent here. We’re not ruling that out. But we also cannot, based on the evidence that we have gained, rule out the possibility that there was some technical problem and then to make it known that a cut had been made, a white flash was inserted.
QUESTION: But there were no technical problems on the other videos that still exist.
MR KIRBY: Right, but they don’t —
QUESTION: If that were the case, don’t you think someone would come and admit that rather than nobody of the 30 witnesses you interview can actually remember what happened? It seems like such a ridiculous explanation it shocks me that you’re actually providing it here. But okay.
MR KIRBY: Okay, is that a question or you just want to berate me?
QUESTION: Well, no, I – John, I just think it’s – I think it’s really strange that you’re saying that. I think someone would remember if it were a technical glitch. And how could you say there was a technical glitch, there was a possibility of that, when there’s no other evidence of those glitches on the other videos that exist?
MR KIRBY: I’m saying I can’t rule it out, Justin. There’s also no evidence that anybody did this with a deliberate intent to conceal. We just don’t know. And you might —
MR KIRBY: And I understand – look, as I said at the – as I said at the end of my lengthy statement, that I understand that the inconclusive nature of the findings is not going to be all that satisfying to you. It wasn’t all that satisfying to the rest of us. You don’t think that we would like to know exactly what happened? We just don’t. They interviewed more than 30 current and former employees. They looked at emails and records, and there simply wasn’t anything to make a specific conclusion here.
QUESTION: Let’s put our satisfaction aside for a second. Is this conclusion that you’ve reached, whatever it concludes or not – is that satisfying to the IG? Is the IG now done with his investigation?
MR KIRBY: Well, I’ll let the IG speak for themselves. I’m not aware that the IG has taken this up as – to investigate.
QUESTION: Well, the review, sorry, that you’ve called it.
MR KIRBY: What I can tell you is – again, I cannot speak for the IG. As you know, they’re an independent entity. What I can tell you is that the Office of the Legal Adviser kept the IG informed as they were working through the process. And it’s our understanding that they’re comfortable with the work that was done.
QUESTION: And then lastly, the technician – is there any punishment to him – or I think it’s – she’s been referred to as “her” in the past – to her as a result of cutting the tape, not remembering who told her, not remembering any of the details regarding this?
MR KIRBY: No. There’s nothing to punish anyone for.
MR KIRBY: As I said at the outset, there was no policy prohibiting this kind of an edit. There is now, but there wasn’t at the time. So there’s no wrongdoing here that can be punished.
QUESTION: Can we stipulate in advance of my questions that in pursuing them, I can be absolved of any charges of solipsism or self-centeredness?
MR KIRBY: You’ll have to define solipsism for me. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Believing that one’s self is the center of the universe. I just happen to be —
MR KIRBY: I would never think that of you.
QUESTION: Thank you. (Laughter.) I’m glad to have that on the record. First of all, so that we are clear, what you are telling us is that some unknown person called this technician to request that an edit that had in fact already been made by some unknown force be made again?
MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is, James, we do not know. We have the technician who has recalled getting a phone call to make an edit to the video. And the technician stands by the recollections of that day.
QUESTION: But the edit had already been made.
MR KIRBY: But it’s unclear – well, it’s unclear. Again, 18 minutes after the briefing, we know that the video uploaded – the version that was uploaded to be used on YouTube and our website was shortened by the same amount of the cut. Now, it’s unclear how it got shortened. It’s unclear whether that was the result of an electrical malfunction or it was the result of a deliberate, physical, intentional edit.
QUESTION: But it is the edit we’ve all seen?
MR KIRBY: It is.
QUESTION: Okay. And so –
MR KIRBY: And what was inserted – that the technician did remember getting a phone call, did remember inserting a white flash to indicate that video footage had been missing. So we know – and the white flash is very clear evidence, as I said, of human involvement in the process. But we’re dealing with recollections and memories that are two and a half years ago. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday. So I mean, there is – you have to allow for some of that here, and that’s why it’s inconclusive. I’m not at all standing up here telling you that I’m confident that the – to phrase it your way, that there was a – that a call was made to make an edit that had already been done. I just don’t know that that’s what happened.
QUESTION: What is the time gap between the uploading in the video and the time when this technician recalls that call having come in?
MR KIRBY: Let me see if I can find that for you.
QUESTION: And does the video automatically upload to the website?
MR KIRBY: No, it doesn’t.
QUESTION: So it’s possible that someone could have done the edit before it was uploaded.
MR KIRBY: Hang on a second, Ros. I’m trying to answer one question at a time here.
Look, I – James, I just don’t have that level of detail. I think we had —
QUESTION: But you said it’s quite some time – weeks, months, a year. What do we think it was?
MR KIRBY: No, it’s usually – it can take up to a day to get the press briefings uploaded online. It just depends. And so I just don’t have that level of detail here.
QUESTION: In arriving at the conclusion that you’re unable to make a conclusion as to whether a nefarious intent was involved here, it seems that nobody has taken into that assessment the actual content of the briefing that was actually erased or wound up missing. And so I want to ask you point blank: Doesn’t the content of the missing eight minutes tell us something about the intent? It just happens to be, in fact, the one time in the history of this Administration where a spokesperson stood at that podium and made statements that many, many people across the ideological spectrum have interpreted as a concession that the State Department will from time to time lie to preserve the secrecy of secret negotiations. That coincidence doesn’t strike you as reflective of some intent here?
MR KIRBY: Again, James, two points. First of all, the results of the work that we did are inconclusive as to why there was an edit to that day’s press briefing. I wish I could tell you exactly why and what happened.
QUESTION: Did the content factor in?
MR KIRBY: But – hang on, please. But I don’t know. Certainly, there was, as we work through this – I mean, everybody’s mindful of the content of the Q&A that was missing from the video. I think we’re all cognizant of that Q&A. I can go back, certainly, and look, but it’s my understanding that the content, the issue about the content, had been discussed in previous briefings. It wasn’t the first time that that particular content had been discussed.
Number two, as I said, it was always available in its entirety on DVIDS and it was always available in the transcript, so if – again, if somebody was deliberately trying to excise out the Q&A regarding that content, it would have – it would be a pretty ham-fisted and sloppy approach to do it, because the transcript was never not complete and the DVIDS video was always complete, and there were – hang on a second – and there was media coverage that day regarding that exchange, right? And so —
QUESTION: I remember it well.
MR KIRBY: I’m sure you do. So it wasn’t as if the content inside that eight minutes or so was not available to the public immediately that afternoon.
QUESTION: Two final areas here, and I will yield. I appreciate your patience. Nothing in what you’ve said so far today suggests that the contents of this investigation or its conclusions would be classified. And so when you tell us that the report done by the Office of the Legal Adviser is going to be shared not only with the Secretary but with members of Congress, what is it that prevents you from sharing that full report with the public?
MR KIRBY: Nothing. And we have – we intend to make sure that you get access to it. We’re still working through logistics with that, but nothing precludes that.
QUESTION: We look forward to a timetable when you can make it public.
Lastly, did the Office of the Legal Adviser arrive in the course of this review at any conclusion as to whether this video itself constitutes a federal record?
MR KIRBY: Well, again, as I said at my opening statement, we’re working now with the National Archives and Records Administration to take a look at what I’ve called disposition schedules, the rules governing what is and what is not considered a public record. But at the time and as of today, the transcript is considered a permanent record, official record, of these daily briefings.
QUESTION: So the answer to my question is the Office of the Legal Adviser did not make any determination as to whether this video constitutes a federal record, yes or no?
MR KIRBY: No, and that wasn’t their —
MR KIRBY: First of all, James, that wasn’t their task. Their task was to try to find out what happened. And (b) it’s not up to the Office of the Legal Adviser to determine what is or what isn’t a permanent, official record. That’s determined by NARA, and that’s why we’re consulting with them right now.
QUESTION: The videotape in question was shot with a State Department camera, correct?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: It was uploaded to the State Department website by a State Department technician, correct?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: The State Department website is maintained by State Department employees, correct?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: This video on the State Department website is in a separate place on the website from the transcript, correct?
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: One has to push a different button to access the video from the button that one pushes to access the transcript, correct?
MR KIRBY: That’s my understanding.
QUESTION: I have no further questions.
QUESTION: Okay, I have one question just to make sure.
QUESTION: It’s like a court of law. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It sounds like a federal record to me, John. It would be very counter-intuitive – it would be very counter-intuitive to —
MR KIRBY: Let James – let James talk.
QUESTION: It seems very counter-intuitive to imagine that a videotape of a State Department briefing that is shot, uploaded, maintained by federal employees would not itself be a federal record —
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: — considered distinct and separate from the federal record that is the transcript, which is typed by separate employees and maintained on a separate place on the website.
MR KIRBY: So look, let me address that because it’s a fair point. A couple of things. There’s no requirement for us, no requirement, even today, to upload videos of this daily press briefing on my website, our website, or on YouTube, on our YouTube channel. We do that as a courtesy, but there’s no requirement to do that. And that’s one.
Number two, the entire video was also streamed into the DVIDS program, which is a different channel. I’m not a technician, but it’s different, a completely different channel, which is why DVIDS had it complete without any problems. And of course, the transcript is and we have considered the transcript as the official record of these daily briefings. And we consulted NARA at the outset of this process, and they concurred that in their view the transcript is an official record of these daily briefings. But they’re also willing to talk with us about going forward whether or not we need to take a look at those disposition schedules to see if that definition needs to be expanded to include video.
So, James, we actually asked ourselves the very same questions you’ve just interrogated me on, and we’re working – and I mean that in a —
QUESTION: But not with the same panache. (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: No, not with the same self-centeredness. (Laughter.) But honestly, we asked ourselves the same questions. In fact, we still are, James. And so we’re working with the National Archives on this and we’ll see where that goes.
QUESTION: So let me get this straight. If the DVIDS video was the same – shot by the same camera, it’s the same thing, and it had no problems, I’m having trouble understanding why you would assume and conclude that it’s so possible that your version would have some technical glitch that needed to be edited. I thought we got past the “it was a technical glitch” line. I’m really surprised to see that back in the narrative, because if their version is clean, why —
MR KIRBY: It’s a different – first of all, it’s a different system.
QUESTION: It would be highly unlikely, John, that there would just be some minor problem on your end. It seems implausible and not worth mentioning as a defense.
MR KIRBY: Justin, look, I’m not going to dispute the confusion that you’re having over this. I can tell you, as I said, we would have all preferred that there was some clear, convincing evidence of exactly what happened. But there isn’t. I can’t make it up. I can’t – I can’t just pull out of thin air an exact reason for what happened.
QUESTION: Well —
MR KIRBY: So because I can’t – but because I can’t and because the Office of the Legal Adviser couldn’t, based on interviews, based on looking at documentary evidence, we can’t rule out the fact that there were – and there were some server problems that we were having around that time. I can’t tell you with specificity that it was on that day and at that hour, but we were having some problems. And it’s not out of the realm of the possible that the white flash was inserted rather – for nefarious purposes, but more to indicate that there was some missing footage and we wanted to make that obvious.
QUESTION: All the – I mean, all the evidence – who would come to the technician 18 minutes after the briefing and say, “I noticed that there was a technical” – telling the technician there was a technical problem. It just doesn’t seem —
MR KIRBY: This technician is not – this technician does not work in the office that typically edits the daily briefings.
MR KIRBY: Look, Justin, I can’t possibly —
QUESTION: But it was someone within Public Affairs, not in the technician’s office, who instructed —
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: — the change be made. That’s what you guys have said. And the idea that that person would have noticed some —
MR KIRBY: We’ve said that that is what this individual recalled.
QUESTION: — would have some knowledge of a technical glitch that the technician needed to be instructed on, all of it seems totally implausible. That’s not a question.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: I have —
MR KIRBY: But all I can say to you is I can’t answer the question you’re asking. We have tried to answer the question you’re asking, and we have spent many months now working on it. And it’s – the results are inconclusive in that regard. I can’t change that fact, and that is a fact.
QUESTION: I just have a clarification point, just real quick, real quick.
MR KIRBY: Hang on just a second. Hang on, just —
QUESTION: Very small one.
QUESTION: One quick – yeah, mine’s a minor point too.
QUESTION: Just one – one thing just from another person other than the immediate group there. We’ve jumped around this issue and around it —
MR KIRBY: Are you separate from the media group here?
QUESTION: I’m different from the immediate group up there.
QUESTION: He said “immediate.”
MR KIRBY: Oh, the immediate group.
QUESTION: So this sounds like a very thorough internal probe, more than two dozen people interviewed. Did the probe identify who from Public Affairs made the call requesting the change? Yes or no.
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: Unable to do it?
MR KIRBY: Unable to do that.
QUESTION: Sorry, can you just remind me? I just need to clarify these things. The request to the technician was to do what? I recalled it was to cut the tape.
MR KIRBY: The technician recalls getting a phone call —
MR KIRBY: — from somebody in Public Affairs to edit the video. That is still the memory of the technician and that’s reflected in the review.
QUESTION: So why did the – so what did they edit if it was already – if this section of the tape was already missing, what did that technician actually do?
MR KIRBY: The technician remembers getting the phone call and inserting a white flash to mark the fact that the video had been shortened.
QUESTION: So it’s – so the request was to edit the video, and then the technician decided upon herself to insert a white flash as a transparency flasher or something?
MR KIRBY: The technician recalled inserting the white flash so that it was obvious that a cut had been made.
QUESTION: But the request wasn’t to insert a white flash. The request was to cut the video, wasn’t it?
MR KIRBY: Again – again – I’m not disputing that. That is what – that is what the technician remembers – getting a call —
QUESTION: So why did this very obedient and forgetful technician —
MR KIRBY: Hang on, hang on, hang on.
QUESTION: — suddenly decide they were going to insert white flashes?
MR KIRBY: The technician remembers getting a call to edit the video, has recalled and come forward and said that that edit was made and that a white flash was inserted. I can’t – I’m not – I’m not at all, and we’re not disputing, the recollections. As I said at the outset, in working through this, additional information came to light which also forces us to consider the possibility that there might have been a technical problem here that truncated, shortened some of that video since so shortly after the briefing – 18 minutes, which is much faster than we typically get to compiling this and posting it in an – on a normal day – happened. So nobody’s challenging the account —
MR KIRBY: — but it’s because we have additional information that we’ve now uncovered that makes it inconclusive on our part.
QUESTION: I just have two more questions. One, did the technician indicate where she came up with the white flash idea? Was that just being really enterprising?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’m not an expert on this. As I understand it —
QUESTION: Or was that the —
MR KIRBY: — or I’ve been told that that is not an unusual —
MR KIRBY: — procedure for making a deliberate cut and to make it obvious.
MR KIRBY: But I don’t – I’m not an expert.
QUESTION: Why didn’t – why did nobody in your entire apparatus think of using the good tape that was sent to the DVIDS and just using that?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have an answer for you on that. Again, it was always available on DVIDS. And I’m not – I wasn’t here at the time, so I don’t know how much visibility there was above the technician level on this and that technician’s supervisor. I just don’t know.
QUESTION: But if the white light was meant as some sort of effort at transparency, one, you would have said something, probably indicated somewhere when you posted it, “missing tape,” no? Not let people hopefully see a white light and divine what that means.
MR KIRBY: I can’t go back —
QUESTION: Secondly, wouldn’t you just use the good tape and just put it in?
MR KIRBY: Brad, I can’t go back two and a half years here and —
QUESTION: Well —
MR KIRBY: — and try to get in the heads of people that —
QUESTION: — you’ve raised this like spectral theory that maybe everybody did everything perfectly and we just misinterpreted it.
MR KIRBY: No I did not. And I never called it a spectral theory, okay?
QUESTION: I did.
MR KIRBY: What I’m saying is I can’t go back two and a half years and try to re-litigate the decision making. The technician remembers getting a call, making a cut, inserting a white flash, talking to the supervisor about it. Conversations that happened above that level I simply can’t speak to because I don’t know. And it would be great if we could go back and rewrite the whole history on this, but we can’t do that. All I can do is learn from this and move on. And now we have a policy in place that no such edits can happen without my express permission and approval before it happens. And as I said, there was no policy at the time against this kind of thing, so there’s no wrongdoing.
QUESTION: John —
QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?
QUESTION: No, I just have —
QUESTION: Can we move to Syria?
QUESTION: I have one more. I have one more.
MR KIRBY: Are we all – are we done on the video?
QUESTION: No, I have one more just to wrap this up, because you just said that edits cannot be made without your express knowledge and consent. What is the workflow now for recording these videos of these briefings and other events, and uploading them to the website? What is the basic workflow?
MR KIRBY: The workflow hasn’t changed. The workflow – it’s the same procedure that’s been used in the past. And again, I’m not an expert on the way our technicians – who are very professional, very competent – do their jobs. I didn’t change anything about that process except to insert a rule that there will be no editing of briefing, press briefing videos, without my express consent and approval beforehand. But I did not change the process.
QUESTION: That’s understood. But I will say as someone with 24 years in news, television news, there’s always another pair of eyes looking at what someone does in terms of work. And so I’m asking, one, once you record a video, now that everything is digital, it’s pretty easy to upload things pretty quickly. You don’t need 24 hours. Number two, if you are uploading something, there’s going to be someone in the process – a media manager, a producer, an editor – who’s going to verify that the work was done and that the work didn’t have any technical glitches. Who is checking up on the work of the technician, or is the technician simply working and ticks off a box, I’ve done this task, and moves on?
MR KIRBY: There is a process that supervisory personnel are involved in. I don’t have the exact flowchart for you here today. But I’m comfortable that the process works, and it works every day. It’s going to work today. It worked yesterday, and it worked the days before that. I’m not worried about that. I think everybody understands our obligations and our responsibilities.
I can’t speak for the specifics in this digital environment. Again, I’m not a technician; I’m not an expert at this. But I’m comfortable that our staff is competent and trained, have the resources available to do this in a professional way, and that they’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: Just a few last ones. Thank you very much, John. Do you stand by the statements you made when you first started briefing on this particular subject that this entire episode reflects a failing to meet your usual standards for transparency?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I do. I mean, again, we don’t know exactly what happened here, but obviously, we would never condone an intent to conceal, if that’s, in fact, what happened. Now again, I can’t say that that happened. But if it did, then yes, obviously, that would not meet our standards. And frankly, and if I might add, it didn’t meet the standards of my predecessors either. Jen Psaki, Marie Harf, Victoria Nuland – none of them would ever abide by any kind of intent to conceal information from a daily briefing.
QUESTION: The reason I ask is because when you started briefing on this subject in May, you told us that this wasn’t a glitch, that it was an intentional and deliberate erasure. Now, following the investigation by the Office of Legal Adviser, you seem to be retracting that and saying we honestly can’t say one way or the other. And so if your previous comments were to the effect that this represented a failing of transparency, I wonder if you would like an opportunity to retract those as well.
MR KIRBY: I said at the time that it was a deliberate intent to edit and I said it again today. I mean, obviously there’s human involvement here.
MR KIRBY: So we know that there was a deliberate edit to the video. What I can’t say, based on the work now that they’ve done, is why that occurred.
QUESTION: Well —
MR KIRBY: But James, if it was – and we may never know, right? – but if it was an intent to conceal information from the public, that’s clearly inappropriate.
QUESTION: You mentioned that more than 30 employees were interviewed as part of this process. Were those interviews recorded or transcribed?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know.
QUESTION: You stated that those 30 employees ranged the gamut of seniority. Does that – are we to interpret that remark as an indication that the Secretary himself was interviewed?
MR KIRBY: The Secretary was not interviewed for this.
QUESTION: To your knowledge, did any of the people who were interviewed have counsel with them while they were interviewed?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I’d have to consult the Office of Legal Adviser for that. I don’t know.
QUESTION: To your knowledge, did anyone refuse to take part in the investigation or be —
MR KIRBY: I know of no refusals.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: In fact, the Office of the Legal Adviser made very clear that they were very grateful and appreciative of the support that they got from people that work in Public Affairs today and people that have worked in Public Affairs in the past.
QUESTION: Thank you.
Posted: 1:49 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]
On June 2, State Department spokesperson, John Kirby sent a message to the staffers of the Bureau of Public Affairs concerning the deliberate tampering of a DPB video, an official State Department record. The message was sent on June 2 but is effective on June 1st upon its announcement at a morning meeting:
As you know, we learned that on at least one occasion this bureau edited a portion of the video of a daily press briefing before posting it to our YouTube channel and the Department’s website.
Upon learning of 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. I also verified that the full transcript of the briefing, which we also posted on the Department website, was intact and had been so since the date of the briefing.
To my surprise, PA did not have in place any rules governing this type of action. Now we do.
All video and transcripts from daily press briefings will be immediately and permanently uploaded in their entirety on publicly accessible platforms. In the unlikely event that narrow, compelling circumstances require edits to be made, such as the inadvertent release of privacy-protected or classified national security 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.
This new policy took effect yesterday. And I have tasked Susan Stevenson to lead an effort to create new language for the Foreign Affairs Manual to institutionalize this approach.
I know you share my commitment to transparency, disclosure and accountability. While the actions taken in relation to the editing of this video broke no protocol — since none existed — they clearly were not the appropriate steps to take.
I ask for your help going forward in ensuring that the content of any video or transcript from daily press briefings is not edited or altered in any way without my specific permission.
Thanks for all your hard work and dedication. We’re a great team with a great mission.
There’s nothing in this message that has not been reported in the press earlier but it iss worth noting what he says in this message. “I know you share my commitment to transparency, disclosure and accountability.”
But how can he know that?
Pardon for raining on a perfectly good message but since Mr. Kirby’s internal investigation is at a “dead end” and had not been able to determine who was responsible for this deliberate act — how can he know that everyone he’s writing to shares his “commitment to transparency, disclosure and accountability?” An official at the PA bureau directed the tampering of the video, we don’t know who or why but that individual has not come forward and is obviously not big on accountability. So, how can he says “I know ….?”
That’s quite a whodunit, hey?