Congressional Republicans are demanding a full investigation into a doctored video of a State Department press briefing on the Iran deal.
The State Department has acknowledged removing a portion of the video posted on its website but has so far not identified the official who requested the cut.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce sent a letter on Friday to the State Department’s Inspector General, Steve Linick, calling on him to investigate the matter.
“In tampering with this video, the Bureau of Public Affairs has undermined its mission to ‘communicate timely and accurate information with the goal of furthering U.S. foreign policy,'” Royce wrote. “This is all the more troubling given that the video in question dealt with hugely consequential nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, meanwhile, sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry late Thursday night requesting a number of items related to the incident, including documents identifying “by name and job title” those involved in making the request to delete the video and those who carried it out.
Chaffetz also demanded documents that show the dates when the video was deleted and restored, and any memos or communications with the Office of the Legal Advisor or others about the move to remove the video footage. The committee gave the State Department until Wednesday to produce the materials.
The State Department’s legal adviser announced this week that part of a video from a December 2013 press briefing addressing secret talks between the U.S. and Iran had been deliberately deleted before it was posted online. The State Department routinely posts on its site the briefing that it holds nearly every day with the diplomatic press corps.
State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters that an unknown U.S. official made a request over the phone to delete several minutes of an exchange between reporters and a State Department spokeswoman. Kirby said the department technician who made the edit could not recall who requested it.
The deleted portion of the video involves questions about a previous press briefing in 2012 in which then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland denied secret talks between the U.S. and Iran about a potential nuclear deal were taking place.
After it was revealed in December 2013 that secret talks between the U.S. and Iran actually had taken place, then-spokeswoman Jen Psaki admitted the administration lied in order to protect the secret negotiations.
When James Rosen of Fox News — who asked the original questions of Psaki — tried to refer back to the video last month, he found the exchange had been deleted.
Psaki, who now is the White House communications director, tweeted Wednesday that she was unaware of the episode: “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.”
Psaki, speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Friday, called the video cut “a stunning case of poor judgment.”
Asked whether the inspector general should investigate what happened, she said she would “let the State Department and their lawyers speak to that.”
However House Republicans, who overwhelmingly opposed the Iran deal, aren’t waiting for the legal team to weigh in before speaking out.
“This admission proves once again that the White House intentionally misled the American people about the Iran deal. If they truly care about transparency, the administration should investigate who requested this selective editing and why,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement.
Arkansas GOP Senator Tom Cotton, one of the leading critics of the deal, pointed to the incident as evidence that the deal was “sold to Americans through a parade of misleading ‘narratives,’ echo chambers, and outright falsehoods.”
Kirby had originally called the deletion a “glitch” before admitting that the video had been deliberately trimmed. But he noted Wednesday that the entire transcript had always been available online.
“We do not know who made the request to edit the video or why it was made,” Kirby said.
Another senior State Department official said the technician found the request “unusual” and consulted her supervisor before making the edit. The supervisor, who also could not remember the name of the person who called, approved the request because it came from someone “from a certain level and credibility” in the Department of Public Affairs.
“Although this person did not remember the person who called her, or the person they were calling on behalf of, she remembers it was not (Jen) Psaki,” this official said. “Jen did not request it, did not know about it and had nothing to do with it.”