Congress

Pelosi spokesman says White House leaked commercial travel plans to Afghanistan

Alternate plan was canceled after State Department warned against it

A bus is seen of the East Front of the Capitol after members of the House disembarked, after an overseas CODEL was postponed by President Trump on Thursday, January 17, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The shutdown feud between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump escalated Friday after the California Democrat’s office revealed it had made commercial travel arrangements to continue an Afghanistan trip the president tried to cancel — but the administration leaked their plans.

There was already a security risk with the speaker and her congressional delegation continuing the overseas troop visit after Trump announced Thursday where they’d be going. But the heightened threat from Trump leaking the commercial travel plans led the delegation to call off the trip for now, a Pelosi spokesman said.

“After President Trump revoked the use of military aircraft to travel to Afghanistan, the delegation was prepared to fly commercially to proceed with this vital trip to meet with our commanders and troops on the front lines,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in a statement.

“In the middle of the night, 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,” Hammill added. “This morning, we learned that the administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well.”

The delegation has decided to postpone the trip “in light of the grave threats caused by the president’s action,” Hammill said.

Multiple administration sources told Hill reporters early Friday morning that the Pelosi delegation was flying commercially, Hammill said later in a tweet. 

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed back at Pelosi’s office, telling Roll Call “Absolutely,” when asked if she thinks Speaker Pelosi and her staff are lying when they claimed the administration leaked her efforts to use commercial flights. 

The White House had issued a statement accusing Pelosi and her office of lying, but it had no name attached. Sanders had denied multiple times earlier in the day when Roll Call and others requested it be made on the record.

“Frankly, that’s unbecoming of the speaker to make that type of accusation,” Sanders said. “It’s outrageous that she would accuse the president of the United States in jeopardy. In fact, the reason he didn’t want her to go is he’s trying to protect American citizens. He wants to secure our border. He wants a solution. He wants her to stay here to help him find it.”

Sanders did not respond to a Roll Call reporter’s shouted follow-up question on why Trump released a Thursday letter to Pelosi that mentioned her Afghanistan plan.

On Friday, a twitter account linked to the Taliban mocked Pelosi in a tweet that included this threat: “Taliban is waiting” followed by emojis of silverware.

Watch: What if Trump disagrees with SOTU delay? Pelosi: ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’

The decision is not just about the safety of the lawmakers.

Hammill said they did not want “to further endanger our troops and security personnel, or the other travelers on the flights.”

“Whether here or abroad, the speaker always thanks our troops, diplomats and intelligence community for their heroism and service,” Hammill said. “The speaker commends her colleagues on the delegation, who personally and officially have dedicated their lives to protect and defend the American people.”

John T. Bennett contributed to this report. 

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