Democratic Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch blasted President Trump Friday for reportedly leaking that lawmakers were trying to make a trip to Afghanistan on a commercial airline.
"It was extremely reckless and thoughtless and potentially dangerous that the president announced our itinerary going into a war zone," said Lynch, who was scheduled to attend the trip with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress.
Trump had denied Pelosi and other members of Congress a military plane to make the trip, citing the shutdown, but suggested she could still fly commercially if she wanted to. That move came after Pelosi asked if Trump would reconsider giving his State of the Union address at the Capitol, given that many government workers responsible for security aren't being paid.
Senior American delegations to war zones are usually planned and executed under strict secrecy, since reporting those plans ahead of time would tip-off the enemy on where to attack high-value targets. Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in a statement that Trump's revelation of Pelosi's travel plans on Thursday increased the danger to all involved.
He said that the delegation had been prepared to make the trip commercially, but Friday morning, "we learned that the Administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well."
The trip was postponed given "the grave threats caused by the President’s action," Hammill said.
The White House said it had leaked nothing that would cause a security risk.
Lynch, the incoming chairman of the National Security subcommittee, said this would have been his 15th trip to Afghanistan, and called it "dangerous under the best of circumstances." But to have Trump publicly share information about the trip put the lawmakers, their staff and their diplomatic security team and military escorts in danger.
"There are very few flights going into Kabul airport from the U.S., and so it basically gave the Taliban and others — ISIS, al-Qaida — first-hand information of when our plane was coming in... I think it was highly, highly reckless on the part of the president, and the saddest part is I don't think he even gets it."
"I think it was spiteful, it was small-minded, it was petty. Just to do that out of spite but accepting the consequences that you're putting all these people in danger, in mortal danger, and outing us to al-Qaida and to the Taliban and others is just reprehensible and a violation of every protocol we have."
Trump's initial letter — his first public comments to or about Pelosi after she suggested Trump push back the State of the Union from Jan. 29 until after the end of the shutdown — was sent just before she and other lawmakers were set to depart on the previously undisclosed trip to Afghanistan and Brussels. Trump belittled the trip as a "public relations event" — even though he had just made a similar warzone stop — and said it would be best if Pelosi remained in Washington to negotiate to reopen the government.
"Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative!" Trump wrote.
Denying military aircraft to a senior lawmaker — let alone the speaker, who is second in line to the White House after the vice president, traveling to a combat region — is very rare. Lawmakers were caught off guard. A bus to ferry the legislators to their departure idled outside the Capitol on Thursday afternoon.
The political tit-for-tat between Trump and Pelosi laid bare how the government-wide crisis has devolved into an intensely pointed clash between two leaders both determined to prevail. It took place as hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without pay and Washington's routine protocols — a president's speech to Congress, a lawmaker's official trip — became collateral damage.
Hammill said that Pelosi was planning to meet with commanders and troops on the front lines in Afghanistan as part of Congress' oversight responsibilities. Her trip was initially scheduled for Brussels as well.
For security reasons, Pelosi would normally make such a trip on a military aircraft supplied by the Pentagon. According to a defense official, Pelosi did request Defense Department support for overseas travel and it was initially approved. The official wasn't authorized to speak by name about the matter, so spoke on condition of anonymity.
The official said the president does have the authority to cancel the use of military aircraft.