We suppose it is possible for the Department of State to screw up the handling of questions about whether they lied to reporters even worse — but it is hard to figure out how.
The video below from CNN’s Jake Tapper today nicely lays out the series of offenses — but here is our quick summary:
- In February 2013 Fox News correspondent James Rosen asked then State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland if there had been direct talks between the U.S. and Iran. She essentially said “NO.”
- December 2013 Rosen points out to Nuland’s successor Jen Psaki that the correct answer would have been “YES” and asked if State routinely lied to reporters when they found it convenient. Psaki with a smirk said there are times when diplomacy needs privacy to succeed. (Translation: yes, we lied)
- May 2016 – Rosen discovered that his exchange with Psaki (where she essentially admitted that State sometimes lies) — had mysteriously been removed from the archival videotape of the Dec 2013 press briefing. On May 10th another State Department spokesperson, Elizabeth Trudeau, explained the disappearing video by calling it “a glitch.”
- On June 1, 2016 current State spokes John Kirby announced that, upon further review, it had been discovered that it was no mere technical glitch — but that some unknown senior person had deliberately ordered the removal of the video of Psaki committing truth about lying. But Kirby went on to say that the video editor couldn’t remember who ordered the cut — and in any case there was no policy in place at the time which forbade altering the record — so let’s move on. Check out CNN’s summary of the whole mess below.
But wait — there’s more!
It seems obvious that since Psaki was in a position of power at the time — and since she was the one on tape admitting with a smirk that the truth at State is sometimes surrounded by a bodyguard of lies — that she might know something about who wanted the record scrubbed.
Turns out she has moved on — to the White House — where she is Director of Communications.
The media asked if she knew anything about the unkind cuts — and she issued a written statement saying:
“I had no knowledge of nor would I have approved of any form of editing or cutting my briefing transcript on any subject while @StateDept”
— Jen Psaki (@Psaki44) June 1 2016
It doesn’t take Johnny Cochran to spot the hole in that alibi. No one accused her of “editing or cutting (a) briefing transcript” – it was the video tape that was in question.
Rosen sent a polite follow up email asking if her statement was meant to include editing or cutting THE VIDEO.
Amazingly, Psaki sent back a psnarky response saying in part: “My statement applies to the video which is considered a form of the transcript and every aspect of this.”
In what may be a clever ploy to show she has the skills to work in a Trump White House, Psaki went on to attack the questioner. She added:
I understand it is inconvenient for you that I have nothing to do with this given you have spent the last three weeks vilifying me on television without any evidence of my knowledge or involvement and without once reaching out and asking me, but I would encourage you to also ask the State Department if there is any evidence. A shred or any information at all that suggests I had any knowledge of this or any connection to this on any level. Hopefully you will find the time to spend on the range of global events happening in the world in between attacking my character.
Consider that on the record from me as well.
There are so many teaching points here — that it would require a book to point out all the ways that the State Department (and its alumni) have messed this up. We’ll just hit some of the highlights.
- Lesson 1 – The original sin (Nuland misleading the press about whether there were talks going on between the U.S. and Iranian governments) was completely avoidable. If the talks were sensitive (as they certainly were at the time) she could easily have said something like — “As a matter of policy we do not find it helpful to discuss when we do and do not have certain types of diplomatic discussions going on. Do not read anything into my refusal to comment. I would respond in a similar fashion if there were or were not any sensitive contacts.” The statement would have revealed nothing – but would not have been a lie.
- Lesson 2 – When Psaki was confronted with Nuland’s apparent lie — she should NOT have smirked — and should not have implied that a few lies are OK when “privacy” is needed. She could have handled the question saying “I don’t know the thinking that went into that answer from earlier this year — or whether the question was fully understood. What I CAN tell you is that I will always strive to tell you the truth. I will not be able to tell you everything I know — but I will never tell you anything I know not to be true.
- Lesson 3 – When reports of the missing tape surfaced — the current State Department crowd should not have blamed it on “a glitch.” We will give them the benefit of the doubt — and accept that that is what they HOPED to be true. But unless you know for certain — you ALWAYS want to inject notes of uncertainty. They could have said: “While we are still looking into what happened, it is possible that this was simply a technical glitch — but we will withhold final judgment until we can investigate fully.” Instead they went with what would be best for them — and when that turned out to not be true — they looked (once again) to be liars.
- Lesson 4 – Kirby should have resisted the temptation to declare the matter over (something he later backed away from) initially saying that it is impossible to know who ordered the edit. No it is not. Lots of people know. If any of them talk (quite probable) – it will look like ANOTHER lie.
- Lesson 5 – Don’t do damage with your damage control. Psaki should have been much more careful in crafting her initial written response — mentioning videotapes not transcripts. But having failed at that — it is folly for her to attack the people questioning her. In this case — neither the State Department nor Psaki have earned the right to pretend they are the aggrieved victim. Kirby did a much better job at that game this morning when he appeared on Fox & Friends and started out by THANKING Fox News for bringing this issue to his attention. That was a statesmanlike response. The first one we have seen in this matter.