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State Department Admits Editing Video to Remove Question About Iran

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US President Barack Obama delivers a speech following a US-Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in Riyadh, on April 21, 2016.JIM WATSON AFP/Getty Images

Almost a month after questions were first raised about a chunk of missing video from a State Department press briefing, a spokesman for the department has finally admitted that a question from Fox News reporter James Rosen about the government’s secret discussions with Iran was deliberately edited out of the video. The government had initially described the missing section as a “glitch.”

State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Wednesday that a staffer erased part of the footage from a December 2013 briefing before it was posted on the Internet. This editor reportedly did so, Kirby said, after receiving a phone call from another department employee telling them to do so. “There was a deliberate request—this wasn’t a technical glitch,” he said.

In the missing portion of the video, Rosen asks a State Department spokesperson whether the department was lying when it denied an earlier report that the government was holding secret talks with Iran outside of normal diplomatic channels. In February of 2013, Rosen had asked whether such discussions were taking place and the department said they were not. At the December briefing, he asked then-spokeswoman Jen Psaki about that denial:

Mr. Rosen: “Is it the policy of the State Department, where the preservation or the secrecy of secret negotiations is concerned, to lie in order to achieve that goal?”

Ms. Psaki: “James, I think there are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress. This is a good example of that.”

When President Obama’s deputy national security advisor described in a recent interview how the administration had manipulated the press about the government’s dealings with Iran, and later admitted that there were “discreet” talks between the two, Rosen said he went back to look at the exchange he had with Psaki and it was gone.

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In total, about eight minutes worth of the December press briefing were missing from the uploaded video (although the exchange remained in the text transcript). When Rosen first raised the issue of the missing section of tape, the State Department dismissed it as a “glitch.”

In his statement on Wednesday, Kirby said 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.” However, the department spokesman didn’t say who had given the order to edit out the Rosen question, or who had done the actual editing.

On Twitter, Ms. Psaki—who is now director of communications for the White House—said that she was not involved in the editing of the briefing video, and suggested that she did not know about it until it became news. “I had no knowledge of nor would I have approved of any form of editing or cutting my briefing transcript on any subject,” she said. The missing portion of the video has since been restored.

Kirby said that an internal investigation showed that at the time the video was edited there were no rules for how briefing videos were to be handled, but that the department has now instituted policies to make sure that videos and transcripts are not edited without approval from a senior staffer in the department. Any such edits will be noted and made public, he said.