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Security concerns created by Trump’s disclosure will delay Afghanistan trip, Pelosi says

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 1/18/2019 By Mike DeBonis
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi abandoned her plans to travel commercially to Afghanistan after President Trump canceled her military flight, while leveling the remarkable allegation that the commander in chief with authority over security preparations had imperiled the safety of lawmakers and troops when he disclosed the confidential plans.

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Pelosi (D-Calif.), on Friday blamed the Trump administration in a written statement for revealing news of the trip, which was set to include several other House Democrats.

“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,” Hammill said.

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Overnight, he added, a new State Department threat assessment indicated “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. ... This morning, we learned that the Administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well.”

RELATED: Trump nixes Pelosi trip and Davos delegation, citing shutdown

Trump tweeted an apparent rejoinder Friday morning: “Why would Nancy Pelosi leave the Country with other Democrats on a seven day excursion when 800,000 great people are not getting paid. Also, could somebody please explain to Nancy & her ‘big donors’ in wine country that people working on farms (grapes) will have easy access in!”

The White House had no immediate comment. But officials moved forward Friday with a broader crackdown on congressional travel: Acting White House Budget Director Russell T. Vought said in a memo that “[u]nder 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.”

No other executive branch expenditure would be permitted for such delegations without similar authorization, Vought added, though agencies “shall continue provide appropriate logistical and security support.”

First lady Melania Trump flew to Mar-a-Lago in Florida on government aircraft on Thursday.

The travel standoff comes as the partial government shutdown, the longest in American history, entered its 28th day. The impasse remains centered on Trump’s demand for a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Trump’s reference to “easy access” appeared to refer to a willingness to negotiate a guest worker program for the agriculture industry.

Trump on Thursday informed Pelosi in a letter that he was postponing the originally planned trip due to the shutdown and called it a “public relations event.” That move was in apparent retaliation after Pelosi told Trump in a Tuesday letter that she intended to reschedule his planned Jan. 29 State of the Union address due to security concerns prompted by the shutdown.

“Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative,” Trump wrote.

RELATED: Trump’s letter to Pelosi accomplished its main goal: Owning the libs

Members of Congress routinely travel around the world as part of their congressional business; that travel is frequently done on military planes and arranged by State Department protocol officers.

Such trips are typically kept secret for security reasons until lawmakers are safely back in the United States.

Hammill said the trip to Afghanistan would be indefinitely postponed “so as not to further endanger our troops and security personnel, or the other travelers on the flights.” But he said that lawmakers would not be cowed in discharging their constitutional duties.

“The United States Congress is a coequal branch of government in our system of checks and balances,” he said. “The Congress has a constitutional responsibility to conduct oversight in the war zone where our men and women in uniform are risking their lives every day.”

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