Pelosi Delays Trip Amid Heightened Threats as White House Leaks Travel Plans

Pelosi Delays Trip Amid Heightened Threats as White House Leaks Travel Plans

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi had to delay plans to visit troops in Afghanistan due to security concerns.CreditCreditSarah Silbiger/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California postponed an official trip to Europe and Afghanistan citing security concerns on Friday after President Trump grounded her military flight and divulged the itinerary, and White House officials leaked a secret plan for her and the lawmakers accompanying her to fly commercially.

“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,” Drew Hammill, Ms. Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, said in a statement.

Mr. Hammill said that the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service had raised its threat assessment for the trip overnight after Mr. Trump announced in a letter to Ms. Pelosi on Thursday that he was revoking her use of a military aircraft to make the journey, which she was to have begun that afternoon. The update 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,” he said in the statement.

“This morning,” he added, “we learned that the administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well.”

People close to Mr. Trump, who did not want to be identified because they said they did not have authorization to divulge Ms. Pelosi’s schedule, revealed late Thursday that she was planning to make the trip anyway, flying commercially. Word of the plan spread through the White House, and among those who had conversations about it was Mr. Trump himself.

On Friday, a White House official denied the charge, saying that there was no way for Ms. Pelosi to have kept her trip a secret.

“When the speaker of the House and about 20 others from Capitol Hill decide to book their own commercial flights to Afghanistan, the world is going to find out,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The idea we would leak anything that would put the safety and security of any American at risk is a flat-out lie.”

It was the latest turn in a bitter tit-for-tat between Ms. Pelosi, who requested on Wednesday that Mr. Trump postpone his State of the Union address scheduled for Jan. 29 in light of the continuing partial government shutdown, which she said raised security concerns given that federal employees charged with protecting the attendees were not being paid. The president struck back the next day, saying that with government workers not receiving their paychecks, he was asking her to delay what he branded a “public relations event.”

“Obviously, if you would like to make your trip by flying commercial, that would certainly by your prerogative,” Mr. Trump wrote in a letter.

But once he had publicized the plans for Ms. Pelosi, who is second in line to the presidency, to travel to a war zone, security arrangements for the trip were jeopardized, sending congressional officials scrambling for a way to salvage it.

Mr. Trump’s letter arrived as lawmakers who were to have accompanied Ms. Pelosi were in a bus near the Capitol about to head to Andrews Air Force Base for their departure, and it led to a frenzied round of clandestine contingency planning late Thursday, as the speaker huddled in her office with the lawmakers, aides and security officials hatching a plan to use commercial flights. But given the State Department’s heightened warnings and indications that the plans were leaking out, Ms. Pelosi decided early Friday to delay the visit altogether.

“Why would Nancy Pelosi leave the Country with other Democrats on a seven day excursion when 800,000 great people are not getting paid,” Mr. Trump asked in a message on Twitter before Ms. Pelosi’s office had announced that she was postponing the trip. It had actually been scheduled for six days, departing late Thursday and returning on Tuesday.

Mr. Hammill said that Ms. Pelosi and the other lawmakers scheduled to take the trip, including Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Representative Eliot L. Engel, Democrat of New York and the chairman of the Foreign Affairs panel, were planning to use to trip to conduct oversight and thank American troops.

“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,” he said.

As the bad blood and reprisals continued between the president and the speaker, the White House announced a new policy banning all official, taxpayer-funded congressional travel for the duration of the shutdown, unless lawmakers had direct approval from Mr. Trump’s team.

“Under 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,” Russell T. Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in a memo Friday announcing the policy change.

Travel expenses also will not be paid for such trips, the memo said, suggesting that even if lawmakers sought to keep their plans and fly commercial, they would have to pay personally for all costs incurred.

It was the chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, who presented Mr. Trump on Thursday with the option of canceling Ms. Pelosi’s trip, as he was discussing with the president the fact that if the shutdown continued past Tuesday, there would be another missed payroll for federal workers, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a private conversation. Mr. Trump was immediately enthusiastic about the news that he had the ability to unilaterally scrap her travel plans.

The official said that the goal of the move was to keep the key players in Washington to be able to negotiate an end to the shutdown. But Mr. Trump stormed out of the last negotiating session he called with Ms. Pelosi and other congressional leaders, and there are no such talks currently scheduled.

Annie Karni contributed reporting.

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