A State Department decision to remove a portion of video from a public briefing has gotten the attention of U.S. lawmakers, with some questioning whether the Obama administration tried to deliberately mislead the public about the Iran nuclear talks.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican, called Friday for the State Department inspector general to investigate the incident.
A separate House panel has given Secretary of State John Kerry until Wednesday to identify the State Department employee who ordered the edit.
Other Republicans have also voiced concerns. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, is urging the Obama administration to investigate the incident, while Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas accused the State Department of peddling “untruths” about U.S. relations with Iran.
At issue is a December 2, 2013, State Department briefing conducted by then-spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Asked about the accuracy of a State Department denial earlier in the year of secret government talks between the U.S. and Iran, Psaki said, “There are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress.”
“This is a good example of that,” she added.
No change to transcript
The exchange was deleted when the State Department posted the briefing video on its website and YouTube, although the comments remained in the official transcript of the briefing.
When questioned about the missing segment, a State Department official initially said they thought it was a “glitch” but officials later confirmed the section had been deliberately removed.
On Wednesday, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the missing segment had been restored.
Kerry called the editing “stupid and clumsy and inappropriate.'' He told reporters in Paris on Friday that he had just been made aware of the incident this week and that he would not want a person responsible for such action to work for him.
Psaki, who is now the White House communications director, told CNN on Friday that the edit was a “stunning case of poor judgment,” but emphasized that she had no knowledge of the editing.
The omission is “troubling," Royce said, "given that the video in question dealt with the hugely consequential nuclear negotiations.” In a Friday letter, he urged Inspector General Steve Linick to request an investigation.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, demanded that Kerry show documents identifying those who made and received the request to delete the video segment and detailing when and how it was restored.
“This whole outrageous episode demonstrates how the Iran deal has been sold to Americans through a parade of misleading ‘narratives’ and outright falsehoods,” said Cotton, who also called for the administration to identify who made the request.
Separately, Ryan said the incident showed the White House “intentionally misled the American people about the Iran nuclear deal.”
Some U.S. lawmakers have had ongoing concerns about the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and whether it will prove to be destabilizing for the U.S. and its allies.
State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said Friday that the department had received the request from Chaffetz and would make every effort to respond to his requests.
He added that if more information came to light, the department would consider it.
Who made request?
Earlier this week, the State Department said the staffer who carried out a phone request to edit the video, three years ago, did not remember who made the request.
“We have pulled on this particular thread as far as we can go,” Toner said Thursday.
“We are not going to question their memory,” he added.
The department's Kirby said he had enacted new policies designed to prevent such deletions from occurring again. There were no such rules in place when the video was edited in 2013, he said.