Remarks at Roundtable With Traveling Press
Secretary of State
MR KIRBY: Because it’s been such a long day for everybody, the Secretary doesn’t have any kind of opening statements or anything for you, but he’s got to get going so we’re going to do about 10 minutes here, guys. And we do this on the record, and just go ahead and try and start with questions, okay?
Do you want to lead, Brad?
QUESTION: Sure. We haven’t had a chance to ask this yet: What’s your reaction to Clinton and all her top aides not cooperating with the email review you ordered? Are you disappointed? And then the second part of that question: Would you and your top aides cooperate with any investigations that future secretaries launch, or would you potentially --
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’m not going to launch – I’m not going to get into any hypotheticals because our people have fully complied with all of the requirements and everything that we have in email is on the backup, is --
QUESTION: I meant about anything.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, obviously, I mean, look, I’m not going to speculating. I don’t think we have anything to be concerned about; and if and when something arises, we’ll – I can’t imagine, because I think we’ve been bending over backwards. I am the guy who wrote the letter to the IG to ask for a self-investigation into our own department and asked for all recommendations with respect to how do we make – improve it, what do we do. Three-quarters of the recommendations they made we had already implemented – or more. Ninety percent of them we probably implemented before they even made a report. And then we did a couple of other things that were helpful. So I feel very proud of what we have done to be open and accessible and accountable.
QUESTION: What about this past secretary --
SECRETARY KERRY: And we are accountable.
QUESTION: What about her decision? You ordered the review. She didn’t cooperate nor did any of her top aides.
SECRETARY KERRY: I am not going to get into commenting on something that involves the presidential race and candidates and prior behavior. There are enough investigations and enough open interrogations going on that the – it just seems to me it’s sort of been overdone in so many ways, and we’ll just see where it goes. But publicly, we’ve done everything we can to provide information to people, to release information, to get all the emails out, to accelerate. We cannibalized departments. We brought people in by the dozens in order to accelerate the release of emails. We did it as fast as humanly possible, and tens of thousands of emails were processed and run through other departments, and I think we’ve done a hell of a good job of trying to be open and accountable.
QUESTION: On some other investigations, the House Foreign Affairs Committee today and the House Oversight Committee have called for investigations into the missing portion of the tape on the State Department’s website. Do you think there should be a further investigation or that people should be held accountable for this? And do you think that as you travel around the world --
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I’ll just begin by saying whatever – I mean, the first I ever heard of it was yesterday or the day before yesterday. It’s completely inappropriate by any standards. Inappropriate. And I’m trying to find out more about exactly what happened and – but it’s completely also contrary to everything that my tenure at the department has personified. I mean, this guy stands up every day, five days a week usually or at least one of our people are there accountable to you for hours. We stay till the last question is asked.
And what’s interesting about that I have learned is the entire transcript continually remained available and posted. It never was changed. The Defense – what’s it called?
MR KIRBY: Video Information website.
SECRETARY KERRY: The Defense Video Information was always available, never was changed. So whatever happened was both clumsy and stupid and inappropriate, and I’m trying to find out more details, period.
QUESTION: So can I ask you about the ministerial meeting you’ve had today?
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah.
QUESTION: The final statement mentioned only the prospect of convening an international conference by the end of this year. Would the U.S. encourage this conference to happen?
SECRETARY KERRY: I have no idea yet. I mean, it talked about the prospect of it, and I think it’s fair to hold open the possibilities. But right now, I think what today emphasized is we need to find some immediate kinds of steps on the ground that will make a difference. We need to work with the parties. Everybody agreed today that you can’t impose a solution from outside and you need to have direct negotiations. And I will continue to encourage that. I talk to the prime minister of Israel regularly. I talked to him, I think just literally, yesterday or day before. We’ve talked regularly, and I will talk to him in the next few days. And I will talk to President Abbas, who I also talk to regularly, and others in the Arab community and else – and the neighbors. And we will continue to work on this very intensely over the course of the next – all the way to the last day that I’m in office.
QUESTION: Sir, if I can ask a follow-up on the video questions. Do you want people working for you who tamper with the historical record?
SECRETARY KERRY: Of course not. I just said it’s inappropriate.
QUESTION: If you find out who requested or ordered this, would you want them to continue to work in the Public Affairs --
SECRETARY KERRY: I would like to find out exactly what happened and why. And I’m not going to make any comments about – but I said it’s a stupid and inappropriate thing to do, and I think that comment summarizes my point of view about it. And I am trying to find out the details of what this was.
QUESTION: Do you think the investigation has hit a dead end or a --
SECRETARY KERRY: I have no idea yet. I just – as I say, I just learned about this the other day. And I’ve been asking a lot of questions, and we’ll find out where we are.
QUESTION: Do you know that you were given the deadline by Wednesday by the chairman of House Government Reform Committee, Jason Chaffetz, to find out who is the person?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, I hope I can find out before Wednesday. (Laughter.) We’ll find out – we’ll find out as soon as we can, I assure you. But I can’t be more emphatic than saying a combination of stupidity and inappropriateness, and it just seems baffling to me given that records are there for everybody to peruse. I don’t understand what was in somebody’s mind, but until I find out, I’m not going to speculate.
QUESTION: Would there be a consequence then?
SECRETARY KERRY: I said I’m not going to speculate. I want to find out what happened.
QUESTION: What do you make of Bibi’s talk about the Arab Peace Initiative, which he kind of blew off when you pushed it a few years back? The API, the Arab Peace Initiative.
SECRETARY KERRY: Look --
QUESTION: Did you see it as serious or a distraction to some of the other things going on?
SECRETARY KERRY: We – I don’t know the answer to that. We have to find out what the thoughts are about going forward, then we’ll see. I don’t know yet.
QUESTION: And do you have any indication yet from President Sisi what his plans are? He’s been making a lot of – he talked about --
SECRETARY KERRY: Yeah, I’ve talked to President Sisi very directly, and in fact, I hope to be going back to see President Sisi somewhere in the next weeks on a number of topics – that included. But --
QUESTION: Can you explain to us some more what --
SECRETARY KERRY: No, I think it’d be inappropriate. I think that he’s trying to be helpful. He wants to be helpful to the process. He’s offered his ability to try to be helpful. And obviously, Egypt is an important player and has an ability to be able to make some difference on all of this.
MR KIRBY: We only have time for one more, guys. We’ve got to get the Secretary --
QUESTION: I have one on Syria. There have been massive bombing today on Aleppo. What could be done? Do you plan to call Foreign Minister Lavrov to ask him to use his influence on the regime?
SECRETARY KERRY: I have talked to – I talked to Foreign Minister Lavrov today at some length, and we talked very specifically about how to deal with this problem and the cessation and move things forward. We’re engaged in some very real discussions right now about how to try to move the process forward. We’ve had, I think, two or three conversations in the last 10 days – something like that – and I will talk to him very shortly again in order to continue to see where this is heading.
QUESTION: Was that on the phone or was it here?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, he was – it was on the phone. We had a phone conversation this morning. We had a good – about an hour’s conversation about all of this. It was in-depth, and we are continuing to work on a number of ways to try to strengthen the enforcement and accountability for the cessation. And we have good ideas, but it’s too early.
QUESTION: Did you talk about the air drops again?
SECRETARY KERRY: We talked about the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The preference is to get it in by ground, and we’re still working on getting it in by ground.
MR KIRBY: Okay, guys, that’s going to have to be it for tonight. The Secretary’s got to get going, so thanks.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: You got what you need?
QUESTION: Yeah, it was good.
SECRETARY KERRY: Everybody okay?
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: I mean, I think the Congress today did exactly what I said to you on the airplane. It was an opportunity to get people together. I had a particularly – it was particularly helpful because I had a chance to meet with the Moroccan prime minister, with the Egyptian prime minister, the Norwegian prime minister, with the EU – Federica, and with the UN Secretary General. So I had a lot of meetings during it which were all very helpful in terms of this topic, and working on the Quartet report – the things we’re doing. So it was a well – it was a day well spent. And then I got to spend about three hours on a video conference with Washington. How’s that? (Laughter.) Fun.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, it is John’s birthday.
(Singing Happy Birthday.)
SECRETARY KERRY: Good stuff, man. Growing old with grace, hey. Speech. Speech. You’ve got to blow it out, man.
MR KIRBY: Oh, yeah, that’s right.
SECRETARY KERRY: You’ve got to make a wish. You’ve got to know your wish and then you blow it out.
MR KIRBY: Okay, I got one. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY KERRY: I want another job. That’s his wish.
QUESTION: I never want to hear about that tape again.
SECRETARY KERRY: Hey, by the way, you mentioned the tape again. Let me just make one comment quickly to all of you on the record.
MR KIRBY: You guys can put this on the record.
QUESTION: On the record or off the record?
QUESTION: Off the record or on the record?
SECRETARY KERRY: No, on the record. On the record.
MR KIRBY: You can put this on the record.
SECRETARY KERRY: I want to put this on the record. I know, because I heard back home, that somebody asked a question about Jen Psaki and her role in this or possible. Jen Psaki was an absolutely superb, beyond any question, straight dealer as spokesperson. And I am convinced and satisfied that Jen Psaki didn’t know anything about it, and there’s no evidence whatsoever to the effect that somehow she was involved in this. And I’m absolutely – I have total confidence in Jen Psaki and in Jen Psaki’s abilities and in her ethics. So there’s no question in my mind she didn’t even know about this and was as surprised and taken aback as I am. And we think it is as inappropriate as I have said to you. So that I am certain of.
QUESTION: Could you say with that level of confidence – could you say that about other officials, like Marie Harf or --
SECRETARY KERRY: I have not had a chance to – as I said, I’m not going to go down a list. I’m not going to start playing. But I know about Jen Psaki, particularly because that would be the first person one would ask and check out and run the hoops on. But I can tell you that I have – she was a superb spokesperson, is beyond reproach in terms of her approach to these things, her ethics. She’s always been up front with people, and I have absolute confidence in Jen Psaki.
But I am trying to find out what happened here, because as I say, it’s unacceptable. Not in my – not in the Department that I run am I going to have somebody clipping – it’s just – you’d think people learn from history, you’d think they learn from just basic common sense. It doesn’t make sense particularly since it’s remained posted in its full transcript and posted. So I don’t know what happened, but I’m going to try and do my due diligence. Okay? Thanks all, appreciate it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all, thanks. Happy Birthday.
MR KIRBY: Thank you, sir.