Acting State Department spokesman Marie Harf had several snippy exchanges with reporters on Monday, as she dodged questions about the Iran nuclear agreement and an allegedly corrupt former contract employee at the department.
The first incident happened when one reporter asked Harf how State is able to stop Iran's destabilizing behavior in other Middle East countries without engaging with Iran on this issue. Harf said State has sanctions and other tools, but said she agrees with the reporter that "it's a challenge."
When the reporter protested that he never said it's a challenge, and implied Harf was dodging his real question, Harf interrupted:
"You don't think it's a challenge?"
The exasperated reporter replied, "I'm not here to answer your questions, I'm here to try to get answers to mine."
Tensions rose again after reporters started asking Harf to confirm whether reports are true that Iran could gain immediate access to as much as $50 billion in frozen assets once the final Iran nuclear deal is signed.
Harf initially said, "that's not true," and stressed that all forms of "sanctions relief" would not take effect until Iran fully implements its nuclear commitments under the deal. That goes against a Wall Street Journal report, which said Iran would get access to billions right from the start, once the deal is signed.
When asked if it could be possible that Iran might be able to receive any money once the deal is signed, she dodged by saying it's a hypothetical that seemed unlikely. But after several questions, she was finally asked whether Iran would get any sort of "signing bonus" just for agreeing to the final deal.
Harf seemed to indicate she didn't actually know, and said she would have to check.
"I'm happy to check again with our team and take another look at the story," she said.
"Because that is a different thing..." the reporter started.
"I just said I'm happy to look into it," she shot back. "I understand very well, Matt, the frozen assets that are out there. I think we're going to move on."
Near the end of the briefing, Harf was asked about reports that a contract interpreter for the department had been charged with bilking the department out of thousands of dollars. According to Claims Journal, Bersabed Boling, a Spanish-language interpreter, was charged with theft for claiming car mileage and "patient appointments that never happened."
But Harf refused to say whether the department has opened any investigation into the matter, and declined to answer any other questions.
"For any additional questions on this, I'd refer you to the FBI," Harf said.
"The FBI is referring us back to State however," the reporter asked.
"Well, I'm referring you back to them," she said.