OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki is in a jam now that one of her old tweets surfaced criticizing Donald Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy now that Joe Biden has his own phone call scandal.
“It is not just the call transcript. The whistleblower complaint would likely have more details. We need both. And not just the call,” Psaki said in 2019 when she was a CNN contributor.
It is not just the call transcript. The whistleblower complaint would likely have more details. We need both. And not just the call.
— Jen Psaki (@jrpsaki) September 24, 2019
But now that it is Biden’s call with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in which he asked Ghani to “change the perception” in Afghanistan has surfaced.
On Wednesday when Psaki was asked about the call she appeared to dodge the question and not offer the same transparency she asked for in 2019.
“There’s some reporting that we’d like to confirm regarding a call in June — in July, rather — between President Biden and former Afghanistan President Ghani: one, that both leaders appeared completely unaware that the Taliban would take over; and, secondly, that they discussed plans to project that Afghan forces were still in control. Is that accurate? Can you tell us a little bit more about that call?” a reporter said to her.
“Well, I’m not going to get into private diplomatic conversations or leaked transcripts of phone calls,” she said.
“But what I can reiterate for you is that we have stated many times that no one anticipated — the vast majority, I should say — there may have been individuals and agencies, so I don’t want to eliminate that option — but our national security team and no one in Congress or, I would say, most people out in the public anticipated that the Taliban would be able to take over the country as quickly as they did or that the Afghan National Security Forces would fold as quickly as they did.
“So, even the content of the reporting is consistent with what we’ve said many times publicly,” she said.
“I’ll also note something that the President said in his press conference around the same time of this reported phone call: ‘The Afghan government and leadership has to come together. They clearly have the capacity to sustain the government in place. The question is: Will they generate the kind of cohesion to do it?’” Psaki said.
“And what the President conveyed publicly, and certainly privately as well, repeatedly, to Afghan leaders — as did our national security officials — is that it’s important that the leaders in Afghanistan do exactly that: lead and show the country that they are ready to continue to — the fight against the Taliban; that they have the will for the Afghan National Security Forces to continue that fight even as our U.S. forces leave,” she said.
But the reporter pressed.
“But did the President, at that point in time, have some sort of perception that even the former president of Afghanistan didn’t have that confidence in the Afghan forces? Is that why maybe he was pushing Ghani to be more stern and to be more confident?” they said.
“The President has consistently conveyed — and I just noted an example — publicly that the Afghan leadership, at the time, needed to do exactly that: lead. They needed to come together in a cohesive manner. They needed to be united. They need to just show the country and the Afghan people they were going to fight and they are going to lead through this transition, even as U.S. forces left. That is entirely consistent with what he has said publicly throughout,” she said.
But is that what the controversy is about? Or is it about Biden asking Ghani to portray one image to everyone when he, presumably knew, it was not accurate?
The two men spoke for around 14 minutes on July 23 and the audio and transcript were given to Reuters on the condition of anonymity by a source, Reuters reported.
In the call Biden presses Ghani to “change the perception” that the Taliban was winning the war even if it was not true.
“I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things are not going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban,” Biden said to Ghani. “And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.
“If you empower Bismillah to execute a strategy focused on key parts of the population centers, and I’m not a military guy, so I’m not telling you what that plan should precisely look like, you’re going to get not only more help, but you’re going to get a perception that is going to change in terms of how our allies and folks here in the States and other places think you’re doing,” he said.
Psaki was hammered on Twitter for her perceived hypocrisy.
“But now you refuse to answer questions on Biden’s call with Ghani? What happened to the promise that this administration will be about ‘truth and transparency?’” Vanessa Castro, a political strategist, said.
But now you refuse to answer questions on Biden’s call with Ghani? What happened to the promise that this administration will be about “truth and transparency?” https://t.co/qQQ5zeUi7W
— VANESSA (@TheVFCastro) September 2, 2021
Release the full transcript of Biden’s call with the Afghanistan President. https://t.co/Xm7pS8Igot
— Rep. Lauren Boebert (@RepBoebert) September 2, 2021
“Agreed. Release the full transcript of Biden’s call with the Afghanistan President,” Rep. Lauren Boebert said.