Republican Representative Brian Mast, R-Fla., accused the Biden administration on Monday of “manipulating” intelligence and misleading the public about the Taliban’s swift takeover of Afghanistan.
A frantic conversation with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken centered on the transcripts of President Biden’s last call with now-exiled Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in July.
On that call, Mr. Biden forced Mr. Ghani to change the “perception” of the failure of Afghan security forces to oppose the Taliban attack “whether it is true or not”.
Mr. Mast confronted Mr. Blinken over the call during testimony Monday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee regarding the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“Mr. Secretary, as stated in the transcript, the leaked transcript as you refer to, did President Biden work with the cowardly exiled Afghan president to tamper with intelligence about the Taliban?” asked Mr. Mast, an Afghan veteran, at the start of his interrogation.
“I think everyone looking for an explanation for what happened and how everyone got it wrong, and how your administration got it wrong, needs to consider the most likely explanation — asking the (Afghan) president to intelligently manipulate what Mr Mast said, accusing Mr Blinken of complicity in a campaign to mislead the public.
The transcripts, first obtained by Reuters news agency in August, revealed that Biden urged Mr. Ghani to “show a different picture” in an effort to bolster support for beleaguered Afghan security forces as it became clear they were going well. bad against the Taliban.
After the transcripts were published, the administration continued to hold to its claim that the rapid fall of Afghan security forces into the hands of the Taliban could not have been foreseen.
“Our national security team and nobody in Congress, or I would say most people in public, predicted that the Taliban would be able to take over the country as quickly as they did or that the Afghan National Security Forces would fall as quickly as they did,” White House Press Secretary Jane said. Psaki to the press in the days following the release of the text.
“So the content of the reports is consistent with what we have said many times publicly,” she said.
Although there is no evidence that the Biden administration is directly receiving intelligence predicting the rapid collapse of the Afghan government, many were concerned about the mixed message that the White House seemed to continue to spread publicly.
Mr Blinken responded to Mr Mast: “What the president said to President Ghani in private, is exactly what he said in public.” “The issue was not whether Afghanistan had the ability to withstand the Taliban. It was whether it had the will and the plan to do so.”
Mr. Mast interrupted him, speaking of the script, “You’re saying it’s wrong.” “It’s fake. It’s a lie. It’s not true. It didn’t stifle intelligence about the Taliban.”
“Certainly not,” replied Mr. Blinken.
But Mr. Blinken’s response was not enough for Mr. Mast.
Mr. Mast said while holding a photo of the thirteen service members who were killed in the terrorist attack on Kabul airport in the final days of the withdrawal.
“We deserve hearings about what’s going on with this leaked transcript,” he said. “I absolutely do not believe what you say about the administration, and I do not act to manipulate that intelligence.”
Mr. Mast said intelligence manipulation was the “most reasonable explanation for the number” who were wrong about what would happen in Afghanistan in the event of a full US withdrawal.
The remainder of Mr. Mast’s interrogation turned into a bitter conversation with the foreign minister.
When Mr. Blinken attempted to respond, Mr. Mast interrupted, saying that he did not want to hear Mr. Blinken’s “lies”, and continued to speak to the secretary until the Democratic chair of the committee – Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York – came in and allowed Mr. Blinken to respond.
“What the congressman said is simply wrong.” Period,” said Mr. Blinken.
“This happened more quickly than we expected, including in the intelligence community,” he said. “I could go on. So what has been said and claimed is simply not true.”
The exchange occurred amid questioning that largely broke with partisan lines in defense and criticism of the administration.
Mr. Blinken’s testimony on Monday marked the first congressional inquiry into the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Mr. Blinken will also testify Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.