Politics

‘Helps no one’: How government officials are reacting to Seth Moulton’s secret trip to Kabul

“It’s as moronic as it is selfish."

A military transport plane takes off from the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, early on Tuesday. Jim Huylebroek / The New York Times
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News of U.S. Reps. Seth Moulton, the Salem Democrat, and Michigan Republican Peter Meijer’s unauthorized trip to Kabul on Tuesday has drawn scorn from fellow officials — and an indirect warning attempting to dissuade any potential copycats from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Moulton and Meijer traveled to Afghanistan’s capital city as the United States works to meet President Joe Biden’s Aug. 31 evacuation deadline, shuttling thousands of American and Afghan citizens out of the Taliban-controlled country.

Both lawmakers are military veterans and said they made the trip to be able to provide better oversight of the Biden administration amid the chaotic process.

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“We conducted this visit in secret, speaking about it only after our departure, to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground, and because we were there to gather information, not to grandstand,” the pair said in a joint statement.

But their secret visit has drawn the ire of administration officials and fellow representatives. Here’s what some of them have said:

Unnamed ‘senior administration’ officials: ‘Moronic,’ ‘Nothing but a distraction’

The Washington Post reports news of the trip was met with fury from some officials at the Pentagon and State Department.

“It’s as moronic as it is selfish,” a senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the newspaper. “They’re taking seats away from Americans and at-risk Afghans — while putting our diplomats and service members at greater risk — so they can have a moment in front of the cameras.”

(In their statement, Moulton and Meijer clarified: “We left on a plane with empty seats, seated in crew-only seats to ensure that nobody who needed a seat would lose one because of our presence.”)

An anonymous senior administration official also sharply criticized the trip when speaking to CBS News.

“Whether intended or not, this is nothing but a distraction at a moment when time is key and every seat on planes leaves should be for someone trying to get out of Afghanistan,” the official said.

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Later on Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, when asked by a reporter, said the White House was not aware of the trip when the two lawmakers were en route to Afghanistan.

“Our guidance continues to be to all American citizens, including elected officials, this is not the time to travel to Afghanistan,” Psaki said during a press briefing. “And our focus, our objectives, our resources need to be laser focused on evacuating Afghan partners, evacuating American citizens, and that’s best done in the hands of the Department of Defense and State Department professionals who are on the ground.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Not a ‘good idea’

Pelosi, a California Democrat, said during a press conference Wednesday she learned of the trip a “matter of hours” before it became public, according to CBS News. But she refrained from speaking about it publicly before they were airborne because “it would be dangerous for them.”

“It’s not just about them going to Afghanistan, but in going to the region, because there’s a call on our resources diplomatically, politically, militarily in the region as well, so this is deadly serious,” Pelosi said.

She does not believe the trip was a “good idea,” she said.

On Tuesday, Pelosi sent a letter, which did not directly mention the trip, to House members that underscored representatives should not travel to Afghanistan, per the request of the Departments of Defense and State.

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“Given the urgency of this situation, the desire of some Members to travel to Afghanistan and the surrounding areas is understandable and reflective of the high priority that we place on the lives of those on the ground,” Pelosi wrote in her letter. “However, I write to reiterate that the Departments of Defense and State have requested that Members not travel to Afghanistan and the region during this time of danger. Ensuring the safe and timely evacuation of individuals at risk requires the full focus and attention of the U.S. military and diplomatic teams on the ground in Afghanistan. Member travel to the Afghanistan and the surrounding countries would unnecessarily divert needed resources from the priority mission of safely and expeditiously evacuating America and Afghans at risk from Afghanistan.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy: ‘I don’t think it’s right that they went.’

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, on Wednesday voiced his disapproval of the trip, but also acknowledged why the two congressmen felt the need to go.

“I don’t think it’s right that they went, but I understand their frustration of why they would want to go. … They realize it’s life and death, so yes, they made a decision to try to do something on their own,” McCarthy said, according to Axios.

He added: “Any member that I’ve heard that might go, I explain to them that I don’t think they should, I think it creates a greater risk … you take military away from doing their job of getting as many Americans out as we can.”

U.S. Rep. Sara Jacobs: ‘Helps no one.’

Rep. Sara Jacobs, a Democrat from California, serves on the Armed Services Committee with Moulton and Meijer.

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She made clear she didn’t support their decision to go.

“Whether it is Haiti or Afghanistan, taking up space in a disaster zone for your own ego helps no one,” Jacobs wrote in a tweet on Tuesday night.

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