Ask an inconvenient question and you're probably working for Russia
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert was left lost for words when grilled by reporters about the searches carried out by US agents on the Russian Consulate building in San Francisco and other Russian premises, which she described as a “tour.”
At a press briefing Thursday, Nauert was repeatedly questioned by journalists Matt Lee and CNN’s Elise Labott, among others, about the nature of the search on the former consulate building carried out earlier this week.
“I don’t know if you all are working for RT today or what,” she joked to Lee, a veteran reporter for Associated Press.
“I don’t know the normal process for going through those facilities but I will look into it,” she added, referring to Lee’s question about whether there have been any incidents, in Russia or elsewhere, where a US consular building has been searched by law enforcement.
Nauert didn't deny that relations between Russia and the United States were at a low point, but said that the search, which was conducted by diplomatic security agents working for the State Department, was fully lawful.
“First of all, let me say that Russian officials were invited to come along with us as we toured those facilities last weekend,” she said.
“They chose not to accompany us on the New York walkthrough for whatever reason. It is certainly in our authority to be able to look around.”
Nauert later apologized for using the word “tour,” which implies a far less serious operation than what was taking place, and claimed that previous searches in San Francisco and Washington DC were carried out under Russian supervision.
“The US State Department has branded journalists asking uncomfortable questions as ‘RT employees’. Thank you, we are pleased!” RT's editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan said.
On Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry released footage which it said shows US law enforcement officers “behaving like raiders” while carrying out “unknown activities” in the Russian Consulate in San Francisco, which was forced to close last week.
The consulate search is the latest incident in a long-running diplomatic dispute between Moscow and Washington, which was renewed earlier this year after US President Donald Trump approved new sanctions against Russia in July.