The State Department cut a section of a daily briefing video from December 2013 in which Department spokesperson Jen Psaki admitted her predecessor had misled a reporter about the administration having direct negotiations with Iran.
The missing minutes of video were removed from both the You Tube upload of the 2013 briefing and the version of the video which is kept on the State Department website, though the transcript of the briefing was not altered. When asked about the deletion the State Department could not explain it nor could they point to any other daily briefing which had been edited in a similar way. Fox News reports:
In that exchange, Psaki seemed to acknowledge misleading the press, saying: “There are times where diplomacy needs privacy in order to progress. This is a good example of that.”
The Psaki comments, and prior department remarks, would appear to conflict with a fresh claim by [White House adviser Ben] Rhodes that they “confirmed publicly” there were “discreet channels of communication established with Iran in 2012.”
That Psaki exchange, however, was missing from the department’s official website and its YouTube channel. The department now says it cannot explain the deletion and is working to restore the material.
The connection to Rhodes is interesting. Rhodes was profiled last week by the New York Times Magazine and said a bunch of embarrassing things about how he helped sell the Iran deal to a young and credulous news media. “We created an echo chamber,” Rhodes explained. He did this by using the spokespeople for the White House and the State Department, but also a cadre of “force multipliers” in the media who were eager to go along with the line being put out by the White House about the Iran deal.
One of the talking points Rhodes created was a narrative about the negotiations arising because of the election of moderate Iranian leader Hasan Rouhani in 2013. The line coming out of the White House was that they were seizing a fresh opening to negotiate with Iran. In fact, the administration had been engaged in secret talks with Iran for about a year before Rouhani took power.
In the wake of the NY Times Magazine story which suggested highlighted this Rhodes’ created narrative about the timing of the negotiations, Rhodes tried to explain his comments by claiming the administration had been open about the timeline of the negotiations:
We pursued several diplomatic efforts with Iran during the President’s first term, and the fact that there were discreet channels of communication established with Iran in 2012 is something that we confirmed publicly.
It’s true the administration did confirm the negotiations eventually. What Rhodes’ explanation skips over is that the State Department directly lied to Fox News’ James Rosen when asked about those negotiations in Feb. 2013. It was only months later, in Dec. 2013, that the Department admitted the true timeline.
The fact that this later admission was then deleted from the video of the December briefing suggests the administration was not happy at having to admit the truth and, more broadly, confirms that Rhodes’ claim of openness about the timeline of the negotiations is not fully accurate.
Rhodes push back is that, whether or not the White House was initially open about this and whether or not the negotiations preceded the election of Rouhani, the deal didn’t make progress until he came to power. “We did not have any serious prospect of reaching a nuclear deal until after the election of Hasan Rouhani in 2013. Yes, we had discussions with the Iranians before that, but they did not get anywhere,” Rhodes wrote.
Here is the report about the missing video that aired on Fox News Monday night. This clip was uploaded by the Washington Free Beacon:
Update: The State Department says it was just a glitch.
State spox: it was a "glitch"
— Omri Ceren (@omriceren) May 10, 2016
Note that this “glitch” is actually a flash transition which someone added to the editing timeline when they deleted the 8 minutes or so of video. You can see it for yourself in the You Tube video of the Dec. 2 briefing. The transition appears at 26:57: