Fox confronts Kerry with hot-mike comment on Israel: ‘Hell of a pinpoint operation’

Secretary of State John Kerry was overheard talking on the phone about the crisis in the Middle East as he was getting ready for a "Fox News Sunday" interview. Kerry made the rounds Sunday, commenting on Russia's possible role in the Malaysia Airlines crash and the rising death toll in the Gaza conflict. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

This post has been updated.

In an unusual moment during "Fox News Sunday," host Chris Wallace presented Secretary of State John Kerry with video recorded before he came on air.


The segment begins shortly after the 11-minute mark in this video.

Wallace introduced the segment as being in reference to civilians killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip. "While you were on camera and while on microphone," Wallace said, "you spoke to one of your top aides between the interviews about the situation in Israel." He then played what the network had recorded. In the clip, Kerry is holding a cellphone conversation with someone. The person on the other end of the call isn't identified, and the audio from the other participant is staticky.

Kerry's comments are clear. "It's a hell of a pinpoint operation," he says, then repeats it. "It's a hell of a pinpoint operation." It's an apparent reference to Israel's insistence that its incursion into the region would be limited. "It's escalating significantly," the person on the phone replies, and Kerry then says: "We've got to get over there. I think we ought to go tonight." He then calls it "crazy" to be "sitting around."

"When you said it's a hell of a pinpoint operation," Wallace asked, are you "upset that the Israelis are going too far?"

"It's very difficult in these situations," Kerry said, repeating that the United States supports Israel's right to defend itself. He then explained his comments by saying, "I reacted, obviously, in a way that anybody does in respect to young children and civilians."

The interaction came after the two had already raised their voices over Kerry's responses to other questions. "You and others don't ever want to give the Obama administration credit for almost anything," Kerry said to Wallace after a question about Iran. When Wallace interrupted his response, Kerry grumbled, "Chris, you like to ask questions, but you don't like to get answers."

On Sunday afternoon, the White House announced that Kerry would travel to Cairo in an effort to help broker an end to hostilities.

Update: State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki offered the Post the following statement about Kerry's remarks.

Given the range of important global events we are not going to spend time litigating whether taping and playing Secretary Kerry's private conversation was consistent with acceptable protocol. Regardless, his private comments were consistent with his publicly stated view on all five shows: Israel has the right to defend itself including against recent tunnel attacks, but he has encouraged them to not only take steps to prevent civilian casualties, but to take steps to de-escalate and we're working together to achieve a ceasefire.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.
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