CNN’s Wolf Blitzer grilled White House Communications Director Jen Psaki over reports that footage of a press briefing about the Iran deal was intentionally deleted by someone at the State Department in 2014.
The deleted footage – an eight-minute exchange between Psaki, then the State Department’s spokeswoman, and Fox reporter James Rosen – was potentially embarrassing for the State Department.
Psaki had essentially admitted to Rosen that nuclear talks with Iran had taken place as early as 2011, two years before the Obama administration publicly acknowledged that the talks were ongoing.
Her predecessor, Victoria Nuland, had told Rosen months earlier that nuclear negotiations did not begin until 2013. Blitzer called that a “flat-out lie.”
Blitzer told Psaki:
It’s one thing to be discreet and not release all the information if it’s classified … but it’s another thing to flat-out lie to the news media and to the public, which is what your predecessor [Nuland] did in 2013 when she was asked whether secret bilateral negotiations were going on and she said no. That was a lie, right?
Psaki said that Blitzer would have to ask Nuland about that.
“I was supportive of and involved with the press,” Psaki said, noting that she “talked through every aspect of the back-channel [negotiations] at the State Department briefings” throughout 2013.
“There’s a long history, for decades, of not being able to provide information when it’s at a sensitive time when it could have an impact,” Psaki said. “And that certainly was the case earlier that year” of 2013.
Blitzer said that Psaki’s response to Rosen at the 2013 press conference – when he asked if it was “the State Department’s policy to lie to keep negotiations secret” – made it seem like Psaki was defending “that earlier lie” from Nuland.
Psaki’s response to Rosen at the time was that”there are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress.”
Her response was later edited out of the final video at the request of someone within the State Department, department spokesman John Kirby admitted on Wednesday.
Psaki said again that she did not know what information Nuland had in early 2013 about the timeline of the negotiations.
I do believe that there are times when negotiations and important diplomatic discussions require not briefing the public on what’s happening. Not because we don’t want to have that conversation with you, Wolf, but because it then becomes a public debate instead of a private negotiation, and that is often what is needed to make progress.
Blitzer wasn’t having it.
“It’s one thing not to release sensitive information,” Blitzer said. “It’s another thing to lie to the media and the public. Is it ever justified for a US government spokesperson to lie to the American people?”
“A fundamental value I’ve always followed is not to,” Psaki said.