Kerry calls doctoring Iran briefing video ‘stupid’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday that whoever doctored several minutes of videotape from a State Department news briefing about the Iran nuclear negotiations was “stupid and clumsy and inappropriate.”

Kerry, in Paris for discussions on restarting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, made his first comments on the incident in which a section of the department’s daily briefing was excised from the official video. Earlier in the day, GOP committee chairmen pressed for more information about the incident.

Kerry said such action is contrary to the department’s entire record during his tenure as secretary of state, and that he intends to discover who was responsible.

Asked if he would fire the person responsible, Kerry said, “I would like to find out exactly what happened and why.” He said he didn’t want someone like that working for him.

The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wrote the State Department asking for more information, and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee asked the State Department inspector general to investigate the matter.

In a letter to Kerry released on Friday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, asked for documents identifying the official or officials involved in editing out the portion of the Dec. 2, 2013, daily press briefing. Chaffetz, the oversight and government reform panel’s chairman, said he was making the request “to better understand the facts and circumstances surrounding the deletion.”

Separately, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., asked State Department Inspector General Steve Linnick on Friday to open an investigation, saying that the department’s explanation “raises disturbing questions.”

Earlier this week, the department said the deleted question-and-answer exchange between a reporter and then-spokeswoman Jen Psaki had been deliberately edited and was not a technical glitch as it had first suggested. However, it said the technician who edited the video couldn’t remember the name of the official who asked for the edit. A department official said on Friday that Psaki, who has denied any knowledge of the edit, did not make the request.

On Thursday, department spokesman Mark Toner said the excision, while “unacceptable,” was not specifically barred by the rules at the time. He added that the department was changing its internal regulations to specify that such actions are prohibited.

During the briefing in question, a reporter asked Psaki, now the White House communications director, about the State Department’s denial earlier that year of secret talks between Washington and Tehran. Those discussions, which were revealed by The Associated Press and other media in the week before the briefing, had occurred periodically and eventually led to a breakthrough, seven-nation nuclear deal.

The reporter, Fox News’ James Rosen, referenced an earlier Feb. 6, 2013, briefing in which State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said there were no intermittent conversations between Obama administration and Iranian officials outside of larger multinational gatherings. Nuland has said she didn’t know about the talks at the time she denied they were happening. Rosen asked Psaki if Nuland had been speaking truthfully or if it was acceptable to lie to protect the secrecy of the secret talks.

Psaki responded: “There are times where diplomacy needs privacy. This is a good example of that.”

That exchange was edited out of the video of the briefing that the department posted on its website and YouTube, even though it remained in the official transcript and backup video for broadcasters.

Psaki told CNN she would cooperate with Chaffetz’s investigation and had nothing to hide, but declined to say whether the State Department’s inspector general should open its own probe.

Kerry said Psaki’s reputation is “beyond any question” and that he is satisfied she didn’t know anything about the inappropriate behavior

In his letter seeking an inspector general investigation, Royce, a critic of the Iran deal, said the video tampering had “undermined” the State Department’s mission to provide accurate information about U.S. foreign policy. He said that “is all the more troubling given that the video in question dealt with hugely consequential nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

Written by Matthew Lee and Bradley Klapper