National Security

State Dept. changes course, will probe edited video

The State Department is backing off from its decision to close the book on an investigation into an edited video of a 2013 press briefing.

Despite claiming last week that the department would not continue to dig to find out who deleted the roughly eight minutes of videotape from a YouTube archive of the briefing, it has reversed course following an order from Secretary John Kerry.

{mosads}“We’re going to continue to look at additional troves of information in an effort to find out, again, what happened,” spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on Wednesday. “That is basically because the secretary said he wants to dive deeper into this, look more into what happened, and try to get to the bottom of what happened.

“And so, what our office of legal adviser did was go back and look at what are other areas where there could be information.”

Criticism has mounted on the State Department following the revelation early this month that someone within the public affairs office had ordered portions of the video be deleted. The missing video snippet — which has since been restored — featured a discussion between then-spokeswoman Jen Psaki and a Fox News reporter about nuclear negotiations with Iran, and whether it would be appropriate for the government to lie in order to advance diplomacy. So far, the department has been unable to determine who ordered the edit.

The House Oversight Committee has since launched an investigation into the incident and demanded that Kerry testify. The head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has also requested the State Department’s inspector general open an investigation into the episode.

As part of the continuing investigation, the department is looking into “all the relevant people who were occupying leadership positions,” Toner said, including multiple spokespeople and bureaucrats. Psaki and Marie Harf, another former spokeswoman, have both said they were not responsible for the edit.

“There are always other leads you can follow,” Toner told reporters on Wednesday. “And so given the secretary’s strong interest, given Congress’s strong interest and given the media’s strong interest, we’ve decided to continue to look at that.”

So far, the only concrete bit of evidence from the State Department is that the technician who deleted the portion of videotape said that she was told to do so over the phone by someone in the public affairs office. That person, who has not been identified, said they could not remember who specifically gave them the order, but that it came on the day of the Dec. 2, 2013, press briefing.

The department’s initial probe appeared to be pockmarked with a few glaring omissions, such as failing to look for emails discussing the deleted portion of video or see whether phone records from the day might still exist. In response to prodding from journalists, the State Department has since said that telephone records would have been long deleted.

Additionally, the only person to have been interviewed in the investigation was the unidentified technician who reported receiving the call to edit the tape.

The department has still not examined all emails that might offer evidence about who deleted the portion of videotape or why.

“We haven’t gone through all the e-mails. We’re continuing to do that,” Toner told reporters.

The department has maintained that deleting sections of a videotaped briefing would not have violated any rules, though new restrictions have been put in place since the tape edits have come to light. 

Tags John Kerry

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