State Department Altered Public Record on U.S.-Iran Deal

State Department press spokesperson John Kirby/
Image courtesy of C-Span

State Department Altered Public
Record on U.S.-Iran Deal

| published June 3, 2016 |

By R. Alan Clanton, Thursday Review editor

As if the U.S. Department of State did not already have enough to contend with in recent months over a variety of accusations regarding its handling of email accounts belonging to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now the Democratic front-runner for President in 2016, it now faces charges by some in the press of deliberately scrubbing its own public records to hide the truth.

This week, officials at the State Department have been charged by members of the media with the deliberate erasure of videos and the deliberate deletion of records regarding a 2013 conversation between a Fox News reporter and a State Department press liaison—a conversation in which Fox News reporter James Rosen questions State Department official Jen Psaki about secret talks between the U.S. and Iran in the years prior to the rollout of a complex, multilayered nuclear agreement between the two countries.

That conversation, as it now turns out, has been deleted from all State Department records, and its recordings erased. In the video, Psaki admits to Rosen that some elements of the U.S.-Iran accord were negotiated in absolute secrecy, without the oversight of any members of Congress, and without any discussion with the public about how the nuclear deal would impact foreign policy, oil prices, or the stability of the Middle East.

In the exchange between Psaki and Rosen, Psaki appears to defend the State Department’s broad empowerment to negotiate behind-the-scenes accords and deals without public input or open debate. The transcripts and video of that discussion have not merely redacted or recanted, but have been erased, apparently under the direct orders of top staff at the State Department.

CNN reporter, analyst and anchor Jake Tapper has accused the State Department of nothing less than conspiracy to deceive the press, the public, and even Congress about the specific components of the controversial accord between the U.S. and Iran—a deal which emerged under a wide veil of secrecy and after a long period of secret negotiation.

“It’s literally someone at the State Department trying to bury something, trying to hide it from you,” Tapper said on late Thursday. “It’s a scrubbing of the public record. It should outrage every American.”

The firestorm erupted on Wednesday after State Department spokesperson John Kirby acknowledged for the first time—after a week of rumors—that someone at State had deliberately ordered that the video footage be destroyed and that all print and digital versions of the conversation between Rosen and Psaki be deleted or erased. The exchange which lasted just under eight minutes, took place in 2013, but referred to the revelation that some aspects of the Iran deal were being negotiated in secret as far back as 2010, only about one year after President Barack Obama took office.

In the video, Rosen and Psaki spar intensely over how the negotiations unfolded, and at what point was the State Department responsible for disclosing to the public, the press, and specific members of Congress the components of the nuclear accord. When pressed by Rosen, Psaki indicates that the State Department needs the latitude to negotiate in the dark.

“There are times,” Psaki tells Rosen, “when diplomacy needs privacy to progress. This is a good example of that.”

Both CNN and Fox News—mortal enemies in the sometimes intense struggle to gain and maintain ratings among news viewers in the U.S. and other countries—are in alignment on this issue. Both networks have in the past slammed the State Department for its attempts to shield and conceal the specifics of the U.S.-Iran nuclear pact, and now both have been critical of what appears to be a deliberate attempt by some at the State Department to redact or erase the public record, especially comments made by officials at State.

CNN’s Tapper blasted Psaki and the State Department for concealing from the public view the talks, which stretched for several years prior to the agreement’s formal signing.

“The implication,” Tapper said, “is that sometimes the government needs to deceive the public and the press to achieve goals.”

When the story of the deletions and the erasures originally broke, State Department officials called the discrepancy a “glitch.” But this week, Kirby admitted that the deletions had been “no glitch,” and were in fact the result of top officers within the State Department’s press office asking that the conversations be removed and erased.

Kirby said that the erasures happened three years ago, but that few within the State Department have any clear recollection of who asked who to delete which files. Video and computer technicians recall only that someone high up within the State Department requested that the conversations between Rosen and Psaki be deleted. Kirby was also quick to point out that he was not personally involved in the decision to delete the conversation.

While careful to tell reporters that no laws were broken through the deletion of digital records and the erasure of the video segments, Kirby did acknowledge that the State Department would put in place policies and procedures to prevent such unilateral internal censorship from occuring again in the future. The fracas comes at an awkward time for the State Department, which must contend daily with the evolving and complex story of Hillary Clinton's email account used during her tenure as U.S. Secretary of State. While serving as top diplomat, Clinton used a private email account and a privately-managed server which was housed off-site and in the Clintons private home in New York, a violation of goverment rules and State Department regulations.

The video segment in question, as it turns out, was also found intact by Fox News in its own digital archives.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Email Controversy Expands for Hillary Clinton; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; May 27, 2016.

Inspector General: Clinton Violated Government Email Rules; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; May 25, 2016.