Pelosi and other lawmakers criticize unauthorized trip to Afghanistan
By Jeremy Herb, Ryan Nobles, Kristin Wilson and Annie Grayer, CNN
(CNN) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn't mince words Wednesday about her view of two House members' clandestine trip to Afghanistan this week.
"We don't want anyone to think this was a good idea. There's a real concern about members being in the region," Pelosi said of the unauthorized trip that Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Republican Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan had taken to Afghanistan, catching both House leadership and the White House by surprise.
Moulton and Meijer announced Tuesday night that they had secretly flown to Afghanistan to see the situation for themselves. The two Iraq War veterans said in a joint statement they made the trip "to conduct oversight on the mission to evacuate Americans and our allies," adding that the trip had been conducted in secret "to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground."
The Pentagon said that they were "unaware" of the decision by Moulton and Meijer to visit Afghanistan and that their visit "took time away" from the missions US military forces were planning to conduct on the day of the visit.
"We are obviously not encouraging VIP visits to a very tense, dangerous, and dynamic situation at that airport and inside Kabul generally," said Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby, adding that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin "would have appreciated the opportunity" to speak with them before the visit.
Kirby added that they needed military protection while they were there, but that he didn't know if they were taking seats that would've otherwise gone to evacuees when they left Kabul.
Meijer said later Wednesday that he and Moulton had not planned to be "dependent on the US military," telling Fox News that they had made themselves known "on arrival for situational awareness of the individuals who were there."
The congressman also said that the pair did not fly into Afghanistan on a military plane, but that they used "a military plane on the way out at the encouragement of individuals who were there," adding that they "waited for a plane that had open seats to make sure that we didn't take away anything from individuals who needed it."
Pelosi and other congressional leaders said that the trip was dangerous and a strain on the military on the ground as it frantically scrambles to evacuate American citizens and Afghans from Kabul ahead of an August 31 deadline for the US to complete its withdrawal.
"There's a lot of work there to be done by the men and women in the military. I think that puts an extra burden on them," said House Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory Meeks of New York. "I don't think it helps necessarily for us to be going over there, and we're trying to get people out of there."
Asked if the trip was irresponsible, Meeks said, "It does not help the mission."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that the trip taken to Afghanistan by the two House members was "not the best idea to go there."
"I don't think it's right that they went, but I understand their frustration of why they would want to go," he said. "We need the military, all the efforts used on bringing people back home."
Before Moulton and Meijer's trip was disclosed Tuesday, Pelosi sent lawmakers a letter discouraging them from traveling to Afghanistan. Pelosi said Wednesday she learned about the trip "a little bit before it was in the public domain."
But she said safety concerns for the two prompted the initial silence, saying, "We didn't make it known, because it would be dangerous for them."
"Until they were airborne, it would not have been safe for them," she said. "It's not just about them to Afghanistan, going into the region, there's a cost on our resources as well. This is deadly serious."
Pelosi also said that trips like the one Meijer and Moulton took need approval from their committee chairs, and that Moulton did not get approval from House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith of Washington. She said she didn't know if Meijer had sought approval Meeks, who said Wednesday he was "surprised and shocked" to learn about the trip.
Rep. Brian Mast, a Florida Republican and Afghanistan veteran, said he had asked the State Department if a congressional trip was possible himself, but was told it was not. Mast respected "their desire to get over there and witness" what was happening on the ground, but he noted that having two lawmakers there created a security "headache" for the military in a chaotic and dangerous situation around the Kabul airport.
"You put two members of Congress on the ground in an unannounced way, and you do have a situation where now all of a sudden they're scrambling for security for those individuals and that can create a dangerous situation or obviously another headache for them to deal with mounted on the mountain of headaches that they have to deal with," Mast said.
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.
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