Reporters at the State Department badgered spokeswoman Jen Psaki about claims by Code Pink leader Susan ‘Medea’ Benjamin that the U.S. Embassy in Cairo ignored her pleas for help as she faced deportation from Egypt this week.
Psaki denied Benjamin’s accusations of being ignored, saying, “our consular officers in Egypt were in contact with the U.S. citizen and provided all appropriate consular assistance. We, of course – due to privacy considerations, we can’t provide additional details. But I can assure you that our consular officers in Egypt did provide all of the assistance necessary.”
That denial wasn’t good enough with reporters pushing back on Psaki–with one accusing the State Department of bias against Benjamin for her “antipathy” toward former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Responding to Code Pink’s complaint via Twitter that the State Department lied, Associated Press diplomatic reporter Matt Lee responded by asking Benjamin to sign a Privacy Act waiver so the State Department could release the information about their contacts with her in Egypt.
— CODEPINK (@codepink) March 4, 2014
@APDiploWriter we have the forms filled out. Just need to figure out best place to bring it & when
— CODEPINK (@codepink) March 5, 2014
In response to comments by this writer informing Lee of Benjamin’s background working with the Muslim Brotherhood and helping to overthrow the government of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak , Lee said:
In this specific case, am less concerned w/@codepink politics than in allegation that they ignored AmCit request for help
Lee later said:
No matter how distasteful you (or I) may find her views, she is still an American citizen and entitled to consular assistance… I am not defending anything she did or any of her views.”
Transcript of Tuesday’s briefing provided by the State Department.
QUESTION: Can we stay on Egypt?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: So you’re aware of this little firestorm – or maybe not so little – about the situation involving Medea Benjamin, who is the co-founder or founder of Code Pink —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — being detained at the airport in Cairo? She has made several claims in interviews that both she and her supporters tried frantically to get in touch with people from the Embassy and that no one came, no – or no one helped, both – while she was being abused, beaten up by Egyptian security officials and then deported to Turkey. What can you say about that? Did the Embassy respond to requests for – her request for assistance?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our consular officers in Egypt were in contact with the U.S. citizen and provided all appropriate consular assistance. We, of course – due to privacy considerations, we can’t provide additional details. But I can assure you that our consular officers in Egypt did provide all of the assistance necessary.
QUESTION: Well, can – all of the assistance necessary? So what —
MS. PSAKI: All of the assistance —
QUESTION: What did they do?
MS. PSAKI: All of the appropriate consular assistance.
QUESTION: What —
QUESTION: What did they do?
QUESTION: Okay, so what —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to outline further. Obviously, there are a range of duties or a range of steps that are taken, but I can check with our team and see if there’s more we can provide to all of you.
QUESTION: Okay. And you’re saying that she – that there is – you do not have a Privacy Act waiver from her or authorized representative, which is why you cannot say more?
MS. PSAKI: Correct. Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Is that – that is correct?
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm
QUESTION: Okay. So in the meantime, even if she – you were saying your side of the story or the Embassy’s side of the story is that she was – that there was contact between her and the consular officers and that they did provide all appropriate assistance.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: And you are unable to refute her allegation that that’s – that that didn’t happen, that there was no contact, that she waited and waited and waited, and there was —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I —
QUESTION: There was no contact and no assistance —
MS. PSAKI: I think I refuted the fact that there was contact and assistance.
QUESTION: Yes, but you can’t – right. But you can’t refute that with – by saying exactly what they did because you don’t have a Privacy Act waiver. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: I will – let me check, Matt, and just see. I know – I understand the interest, obviously. Let me see if there’s more specific details I can provide —
MS. PSAKI: — about what we were able to do.
QUESTION: Right. But the – would the – what you were able to do be at all in any way affected by Ms. Benjamin’s well-known political activism or her, at least, past antipathy to former Secretary of State Rice?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of what services we would provide?
QUESTION: In terms of what embassy officials would help her with, or would they ignore her pleas or her distress?
MS. PSAKI: Of course not. Of course not. We provide a broad range of assistance to people from a broad range of backgrounds.
QUESTION: Okay. So can you just check and see if there’s more that is able —
MS. PSAKI: Sure, I’m happy to.
QUESTION: — to be said, because this is kind of exploding up here on the —
MS. PSAKI: No, I understand. I understand. I’ll see if there’s more detail we can provide without a waiver.
QUESTION: Thank you.