The Slatest

Pelosi Cancels Afghanistan Trip, Claiming Trump Administration Leaked Commercial Travel Plans

A blue U.S. Air Force bus in front of the Capitol. A police officer stands by his motorcycle in the foreground.
An empty U.S. Air Force bus sits outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 17. The bus was scheduled to take House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a congressional delegation to Joint Base Andrews for a military flight to Afghanistan. Alex Wong/Getty Images

A statement from Nancy Pelosi’s office revealed Friday that the speaker of the House had planned to defy Trump’s retaliatory efforts to cancel her trip abroad by flying commercially to Afghanistan. But now, according to that statement, Pelosi has canceled her second attempt at taking a congressional delegation to visit the troops and blames the Trump administration for leaking her travel plans.

“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,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in a Friday statement. “This morning, we learned that the Administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well. In light of the grave threats caused by the President’s action, the delegation has decided to postpone the trip so as not to further endanger our troops and security personnel, or the other travelers on the flights.”

Trump had canceled Pelosi’s undisclosed plan to lead a congressional delegation on Thursday by revoking her access to the planned military transport. He promised to allow her to reschedule what he called a “seven-day excursion” and “public relations event” once the partial government shutdown ends. “Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial,” he added, “that would certainly be your prerogative.”

The move was widely interpreted as retaliation for Pelosi’s letter the previous day asking Trump to reschedule the Jan. 29 State of the Union address until after the shutdown ends, citing the number of security workers who would have to work the event without pay.

The purpose of Pelosi’s planned trip, according to Hammill, was to “express appreciation and thanks to our men and women in uniform for their service and dedication, and to obtain critical national security and intelligence briefings from those on the front lines.” While in Brussels for pilot rest, the congressional delegation was to meet with NATO commanders and allies “to affirm the United States’ ironclad commitment to the NATO alliance.”

In the statement Friday, Hammill said Pelosi’s office had learned the Trump administration had leaked the congressional delegation’s commercial travel plans. While no news outlets appeared to have reported on the plans before Pelosi’s statement, Hammill told Slate that multiple sources from the administration were attempting to leak the news. A White House spokesperson responded to Pelosi’s statement by pushing back on the claim: “The idea we would leak anything that would put the safety and security of any American at risk is an offensive flat out lie.”

In a statement Friday, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget announced a full ban on the use of government-owned or government-chartered aircraft during the shutdown for a congressional delegation without express permission from the White House chief of staff. Late on Thursday, the White House also canceled a scheduled trip led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Some critics pointed out that President Trump flew to Afghanistan during the shutdown and that Melania Trump still flew to Florida on a government jet Thursday for a weekend vacation, just hours after her husband postponed Pelosi’s trip to visit U.S. troops in Afghanistan.