Friday, April 20, 2018

Department Press Briefings: Department Press Briefing - April 19, 2018

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Heather Nauert
[State] Department Press Briefing 
Washington, DC
April 19, 2018

image of U.S. Embassy Berlin from

QUESTION: It’s a new topic; it’s kind of a random one. But it’s about this story about the U.S. embassy in Germany, who paid a couple of speaker [sic] – or one of them was the embassy in Berlin and another one was the consulate in Frankfurt – that have paid, as speakers, people that have been public critics of President Trump, one of them calling – comparing his rhetoric on ISIS to – comparing his rhetoric to ISIS. Do you – can you confirm that these people have been hired by the U.S. embassy, and why – why haven’t they been vetted? I just think it’s really weird.

MS NAUERT: This has been subject of quite a deal of conversation here in the building over the past few days. I’ve certainly read the reports, and I’m familiar with what you’re talking about. The person who was brought over to our embassy in Germany is someone who was a Holocaust survivor, and had been a outspoken person on the subject of extremist groups. And he was brought to our embassy to speak in that capacity. And so it was believed, I’m told, by our folks at the embassy, that his background carried particular weight in talking about ISIS and extremist activity with the German public who would come in. This was a part of one of our speakers programs where in Germany they host 70 to 80 speakers every single year, and our people will look through their backgrounds and decide who to invite on behalf of the embassy on the basis of their credentials, but we don’t look at their politics when we’re inviting those people over. Our embassy was not aware of this individual’s comments that he had made, inflammatory comments that he had made in the past, and I can just say that he was brought over in accordance with the speakers program that the United States Government hosts at many embassies around the world. The person’s air travel was covered and then also received some sort of a stipend.

QUESTION: I mean, we’ve spoken a lot – you’ve spoken a lot from this podium – about how the Foreign Service is completely apolitical and serves administrations Republican and Democrat, and is there a concern that something like this could have a negative light on the Foreign Service, that they’re not supportive of the President’s agenda?

MS NAUERT: And let’s make sure that we are splitting this out. We have the Foreign Service here at the State Department, and I have found every single Foreign Service officer that I’ve worked with to be highly, highly professional, and apolitical, for that matter.

QUESTION: So was this person hired by --

MS NAUERT: I can’t – I don’t know this person’s identity. I believe this person was a locally employed staff working in concert with some of our other colleagues at the embassy in Germany. We also have our civil servants. Look, this is a 75,000-member organization. My understanding – and we’ve been dealing with this today and yesterday – is that this person – that we were not aware of this person’s comments that the person has said in the past, and certainly that puts the – in my view – the State Department – people are right to ask questions about did you look at this person’s background. In my personal view, yes, people should take a look at the types of things that people have said to not put the State Department or our embassies in an embarrassing light. Obviously this was an oversight on the part of the embassy – that’s my personal view, an oversight, because I don’t necessarily think that’s a good thing, to bring in somebody who would make those types of comments – but on the other hand, we also believe in free speech. So there’s a sort of a delicate balance there.

QUESTION: But isn’t it – I understand what you’re saying about free speech, but isn’t it kind of self-defeating when an embassy would have a guest that’s publicly critical of --

MS NAUERT: Yeah. I happen to agree with that. I happen to agree with that completely. Would I have that person speak at a party that I’m hosting, where it come back and make me look poorly? No, absolutely not. But this person was selected based on the person’s credentials, that this person had been a Holocaust survivor, that this person was some sort of an expert on violent extremist groups, and that was the topic of the conversation that he was brought in to discuss. I have been told by all my colleagues that we were not aware of this person’s comments that he had made that were derogatory of the administration.

QUESTION: Wait, hold on a second. This seems – sounds like you’re about to head down a really slippery slope. I’m not familiar with this story, I don’t know what these inflammatory comments were, but are you suggesting --

MS NAUERT: You can Google it there. (Laughter.) Just Google it, Matt. I know you like to look things up. Or Dave Clark, he’s the one who’s the expert --

QUESTION: There’s no wifi in here and the service is really bad.

MS NAUERT: He’s the expert of looking things up while we’re doing this.

QUESTION: Anyway, I’ll take a look at whatever it is, but this seems – are you suggesting that the U.S. embassies abroad will now disqualify anyone who has been critical of the administration from speaking?

MS NAUERT: People are brought in – I gave you my personal opinion, okay – people are --

QUESTION: But you went further. You said you wouldn’t invite someone to a party so you would make it look bad. I mean, is there some kind of purity test going on? (Laughter.) Loyal – you have to swear allegiance to --

MS NAUERT: No, Matt, I’m just – simply mean as sort of a public entity, okay. At your company or any company of that sort, you’d have to – you have to think about appearances and how things look.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but --

MS NAUERT: So people are brought in to speak on behalf of our – at our embassies.

QUESTION: But he’s not speaking on behalf --

MS NAUERT: Let me finish, please


MS NAUERT: Regardless of their political affiliations.

QUESTION: Okay. And that’s a good thing, you think, right?

MS NAUERT: I typically think that that is a good thing, yes. That is a very good thing.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, if these comments were so outrageous and extreme --

MS NAUERT: Because we believe in different types of voices.

QUESTION: -- then maybe that’s something, but --

MS NAUERT: Would I have made that choice? No, I personally would not have made that choice, and that was my point.

QUESTION: But this – these speakers do not speak on behalf of the administration.

MS NAUERT: Understood, yes. Yes.

QUESTION: Presumably they speak on behalf of themselves, so I’m not sure what – I mean, so if – are you saying – advocating the idea that if someone has been critical in the past – just critical, saying “I think policy X is not a good idea” – that they wouldn’t – that they would then be disqualified from being invited?

MS NAUERT: Matt, I don’t think we really enjoy --

QUESTION: I don’t know what the guy said, so --

MS NAUERT: I don’t --

QUESTION: I’m just asking if it’s a good public diplomacy [JB emphasis] stance for one of your speakers to – talking about ISIS and comparing the President’s rhetoric to ISIS. That’s all I’m asking.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS NAUERT: There you go. Enough said.


MS NAUERT: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: I had an immediate follow up to this one. Is this the same --

QUESTION: Oh, go for that, and then I’ll --

QUESTION: Yeah. Sorry. The --

MS NAUERT: So much cooperation today. Very – cooperating nicely.

QUESTION: We have a friendship. It’s nice.

MS NAUERT: Yes, exactly.

QUESTION: You’ve just given us your personal opinion about an act of public diplomacy. You’re under secretary of state for public diplomacy. Could you give us your opinion as the under secretary of state for public diplomacy on this decision? Are you admonishing the Berlin embassy?

MS NAUERT: I would have to speak to the person who made the decision and have that conversation myself and better understand all of the details and how those decisions were made before making further comment on that. Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. Sorry.

MS NAUERT: Okay. Thanks. Hey.

QUESTION: Thanks. ...

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