Reporters Grill State Dept. on Egypt Coup Decision Punt
Friday's U.S. State Department daily press briefing may have provided more fodder for another The Daily Show segment as spokeswoman Jen Psaki bore the brunt of the criticism of the Obama administration's announcement on Thursday that it won't determine whether a coup occurred in Egypt earlier this month.
For more than 30 minutes the State Department press corps aggressively questioned Psaki about the decision. Veteran Associated Press reporter Matthew Lee compared the administration's position to the character Sergeant Schulz from the 1960's show "Hogan's Heroes," known for saying "I see nothing, I hear nothing, I know nothing."
Psaki, who was not alive when Hogan's Heroes was on the air, said she didn't quite get the reference, so Lee spelled it out more bluntly.
"It took 3 1/2 weeks to come up with a decision that you're going to ignore the law?" he asked.
Psaki said the administration has not ignored the law, but rather studied it very closely.
"It was a review of what is applicable under the law, abiding by the law. We're continuing to work with Congress. This is ongoing. Obviously, our relationship with Egypt and the aid we provide and decisions over that is an ongoing process," said Psaki who added that this "is not an end."
But when reporters pressed her over whether the administration would come back with a definitive declaration over whether Egypt had a coup or not in the future, Psaki said there were no plans to do so.
"We have determined we're not going to make a determination. So I haven't said one way or the other," she told reporters
After several more minutes of back and forth, reporters, who grew frustrated with her answers, moved on to other topics. But not before Lee posed a lengthy question about the logic of the decision and what it means for America's standing in the world.
"I just don't understand, one, how it took so long to come to this decision you were just going to ignore this, and two, what makes you think, as other people have asked, that this is not going to hurt your reputation, your image, your credibility abroad when you run - when you go around and tell other governments that they should respect the rule of law?" he asked.
Psaki repeated that the situation in Egypt is "complicated" and said that the administration believes people will understand that.
"We took the time to review and evaluate all of the factors here, our legal obligations, our national security interests, the impact on regional stability. I think that that's a message that will be understood," she said
Psaki did directly answer a question on the administration's position over the new charges leveled against former President Morsi, who remains under detention, saying the U.S. is "deeply concerned" by the reports.
"We do believe that it is important that there be a process to work towards his release," said Psaki. "Clearly this process should respect the personal security of him and take into account the volatile political situation in Egypt, and that's where our focus is."