White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki fields questions Wednesday during the daily news briefing at the White House. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
By C. Douglas Golden September 2, 2021 at 6:54am
Twenty-three days before the fall of Afghanistan, President Joe Biden spoke with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
A transcript of the call was reviewed by Reuters. To a certain extent, Biden tried to express confidence in Ghani’s government: “We are going to continue to fight hard, diplomatically, politically, economically, to make sure your government not only survives, but is sustained and grows,” Biden told Ghani.
At one point during the July 23 call, however, Biden made it clear the rest of the world wasn’t very confident.
“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, according to Reuters.
“And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”
That “whether it is true or not” part is getting put under the microscope. Not that the White House wants to talk about it, particularly White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
When asked at a Wednesday briefing if Biden was “in any way pushing a false narrative in that call with the Afghan president,” Psaki said she wasn’t “going to go into details of a private conversation.”
After more Psaki word salad, @JacquiHeinrich returned to the Biden/Ghani call: “Was the President in any way pushing a false narrative in that call with the Afghan president?
Psaki: “It’s pretty clear…I’m not going to go into details of a private conversation.” (4/4) pic.twitter.com/Y6YM6LvHVY
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) September 1, 2021
“I think it’s pretty clear, again, I’m not going to go into details of a private conversation,” Psaki said. “But what we saw over the course of the last few months is a collapse in leadership and that was happening even before Ghani left the country.
Do we need to know more about Joe Biden’s call with Ashraf Ghani?
“What the president has conveyed repeatedly, privately and publicly, is, ‘You need to stand up and lead your country.’ And that’s something he said at a press conference in July, in a public forum as well,” she added.
The White House isn’t going to talk about the details of a private conversation that looks as if the president had some awareness of the deteriorating situation in the country and that he may have been encouraging Ghani to lie about it. That’s pretty serious stuff, considering the chaos that ensued less than a month later. But, if you want more details, tough.
As conservative commentator Jack Posobiec pointed out, these weren’t Psaki’s feelings during the last administration, however:
Hi @PressSec! This you? https://t.co/0rj6qdKnMW
— Jack Posobiec 🇺🇸 (@JackPosobiec) September 1, 2021
Psaki’s Sept. 24, 2019, tweet, published while she was a CNN analyst, addressed the phone call between former President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky which was the subject of Trump’s first impeachment trial.
In it, Trump was alleged to have implicitly proposed a quid pro quo in which American financial support for Ukraine would be based on Zelensky’s government investigating the dealings of Hunter Biden with Burisma, a Ukrainian energy firm.
While not entirely analogous, both calls represent inflection points for each administration.
In Trump’s case, it was determining whether there was indeed an illegal quid pro quo. In Biden’s case, answers about his call with Ghani would go a long way to clarifying what he knew or should have known about the imminent collapse of Afghanistan, whether he wanted Ghani to lie about the seaworthiness of his government and what he hoped to accomplish through that false narrative.
As you might imagine, there were more than a few new responses to Psaki’s nearly 2-year-old tweet:
Agreed! We need all info on the Biden call ASAP.
— Gibs 🇺🇲 (@gibsonsplace) September 1, 2021
— Kambree (@KamVTV) September 2, 2021
Yes we need as much information as possible, transparency is key you said so yourself
— Paul Durand (@PaulDur2182) September 1, 2021
Hey Jen. Want to circle back?
— Kimberly Ryan (@kryan157) September 1, 2021
“Hey Jen. Want to circle back?” one user wrote, mocking a standard Psaki tactic when evading a question from the media.
I don’t believe she does, no.
Like it or not, this isn’t going away. The images of the Kabul bombing, of Afghans desperate to escape falling from planes, of our president looking at his watch as the remains of slain service members were returned home — these are images that won’t fade from our collective memory in a few news cycles.
The Ghani call is more fuel for the fire, and the White House isn’t going to be able to dismiss this by a White House press secretary saying she won’t “go into details of a private conversation.”
As Psaki herself said two years ago, nobody should be satisfied with “just the call transcript.”