U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, D.C., February 1, 2022. (Susan Walsh/Pool via Reuters)

Matt Lee, a veteran reporter with the Associated Press, put State Department spokesman Ned Price in the hot seat Thursday for refusing to provide evidence that Russia plans to stage a false-flag operation to justify an invasion of Ukraine.

During his opening remarks ahead of a press briefing, Price made the case “that Moscow might create a false flag operation” to justify an invasion of Ukraine, citing the existence of a Russian intelligence propaganda video that allegedly depicts “explosions and fake corpses,” “crisis actors pretending to be mourners” and “images of destroyed locations or military equipment” on the ground in Ukraine.

It is the Biden administration’s contention that Russia may stage an attack in the separatist regions of Ukraine as an excuse to intervene on behalf of the Russian speaking people there. If President Vladimir Putin declares these regions independent territory, the video could serve as the “green light” for Russian troops to move in, the U.S. government has claimed.

Lee challenged Price, saying the State Department had presented “no evidence” that Russia has actually created a “crisis actor” video and insisting that he wouldn’t be satisfied with the administration’s claims alone.

“If you doubt the credibility of the U.S. government, of the British government, of other governments and want to, you know, find solace in information that the Russians are putting out, that is for you to do,” Price responded.

Price added that this isn’t the first report the U.S. has publicly released on Russia’s predatory activity, as just a few weeks ago it discovered that a group of Russian operatives were already plotting a staged incident in Eastern Ukraine.

Lee rejected Price’s assurances and suggested the allegation was a conspiracy theory worthy of internet provocateur theorist Alex Jones, who has been removed from all major social media platforms for violating terms of service.

“Like, ‘crisis actors’? This is Alex Jones territory you’re getting into,” he said. “Where is the declassified information?,” he repeated multiple times.

In pressing for evidence to justify the administration’s claims, the veteran reporter referenced numerous U.S. intelligence failures that led to catastrophe in recent decades, including the “weapons of mass destruction” speculation that served as a pretext for America’s 2003 military intervention in Iraq as well as the U.S. timeline for Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban that was totally upended in August.

“I would like to see some proof that you can show that shows what the Russians are doing. I’ve been doing this a long time…I remember Iraq and that Kabul’s not going to fall,” Lee retorted.

Price affirmed that the declassified information the U.S. has obtained will be crucial to deterrence efforts if Moscow does proceed with provocation.

“There are no facts that you spelled out!,” Lee exclaimed. Price noted that Russian forces have taken positions and preparations suggesting that Putin is poised for an invasion of Ukraine.

“We know what they are planning for, we know the contingencies they have engaged in,” he said.

Later during the press conference, Lee jumped in again.

“Let me just appeal to you, on behalf of all of us, and the American people, and the people of the world, and the Russian people, and the Ukrainian people, one piece of evidence to suggest that the Russians are planning to use ‘crisis actors’ to stage a false mass casualty event to use as a pretext. Just one piece…one piece of verifiable evidence,” he pleaded.

While Lee was not easily persuaded, Price claimed that Russia is currently exhibiting very similar behavior to that which preceded its 2014 incursion into and annexation of the Crimean peninsula bordering Ukraine. The false flag operation is somewhat reminiscent of the disguised , unmarked “little green men” who were really Russian soldiers carrying Russian military weapons and equipment during the Russo-Ukrainian war in 2014.

Other media personalities have since joined Lee in expressing skepticism about the government’s Russian propaganda story, including MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, who tweeted: “Both of these responses from Psaki and Price are completely dumb and gross and only make them, and the case they are making, look worse.”

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman also chimed in on Twitter.

This is really something as an answer. Questioning the US government does not = supporting what Russia is saying. https://t.co/zuxgszfGEw

— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) February 3, 2022

Aboard Air Force One on Thursday, a reporter asked Psaki for evidence to support the claim that Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the leader of the Islamic State (IS), detonated a suicide bomb, killing himself and his family following a following a US raid in northern Syria.

Psaki asked the press whether they think the U.S. military is “not providing accurate information and ISIS is providing accurate information.”

“But I mean, the U.S. has not always been straightforward about what happens with civilians,” the reporter replied. “And I mean, that is a fact.”

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