House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused President Donald Trump’s administration of leaking her plan to fly commercially to Afghanistan, forcing her to scuttle the trip because of the heightened danger.
Pelosi said that after Trump on Thursday publicly revealed plans for the trip in a letter denying use of military aircraft for her congressional delegation to make the trip to visit troops in the war zone, they made alternative plans to use commercial service. But she said the State Department warned that publicity about the trip raised the danger level, and then a leak about the delegation’s plan to fly commercial forced her to scrap that plan.
“The fact that they would leak that we were flying commercial is a danger not only us but other people flying commercial,” Pelosi told reporters Friday at the Capitol. “It was very irresponsible on the part of the president.”
A White House official, who refused to be identified, denied the administration leaked the information about the commercial flight. Pelosi didn’t answer a question about why she believes the administration was behind the leak.
When asked whether Trump’s move was retaliation for her suggestion to postpone his State of the Union address to Congress during the partial government shutdown, she quipped, “I don’t think the president would be that petty, do you?”
The clash over the trip, and accusation of a leak that could have put Pelosi’s life in danger, added to the poisonous atmosphere surrounding the 28-day government shutdown, which has no end in sight.
Trump on Thursday canceled Pelosi’s previously unannounced travel by military aircraft, which included a stopover in Brussels, about an hour before the delegation’s scheduled departure. “In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate,” Trump said in a letter to Pelosi.
That followed Pelosi’s action on Wednesday calling on the president to postpone his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress because of the partial government shutdown.
Pelosi had not announced her trip — such travel by officials is typically kept under wraps until after it begins to maintain security. Reporters traveling with the president, defense secretary or secretary of state have long been instructed not to reveal a stop in Kabul or Baghdad until the plane has landed.
When Trump was in Iraq Dec. 26 on his first visit to U.S. troops in a war zone, the information was embargoed until hours after he arrived.
A person familiar with the congressional delegation’s plans told Bloomberg News earlier on Friday that Pelosi planned to fly commercial to Afghanistan. Bloomberg didn’t publish a report.
Pelosi had planned to depart Thursday afternoon and a group of lawmakers traveling with her were preparing to board an Air Force bus to begin the trip when Trump pulled the use of military aircraft. As House speaker, Pelosi is the second in line for the presidency following the vice president.
“The State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service provided an updated threat assessment detailing that the president announcing this sensitive travel had significantly increased the danger to the delegation and to the troops, security, and other officials supporting the trip,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said. “This morning, we learned that the administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well.”
A spokeswoman for the Diplomatic Security office declined to comment when asked Friday about Pelosi’s statement.
Members of Congress routinely travel overseas using military aircraft. The White House has canceled all congressional use of military planes during the government shutdown.
“Under no circumstances during a government shutdown will any government owned, rented, leased, or chartered aircraft support any Congressional delegation, without the express written approval of the White House Chief of Staff,” acting Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought said in a memo to departments and agencies. Logistics and security support will continue to be provided, it said.
Trump’s move outraged Democrats, who questioned whether he had the authority to control congressional travel.