Secretary of State Antony Blinken was pressed to comment on President Biden’s last call with Afghan President Mohammad Ghani after reports alleged that the president pressured his Afghan counterpart to lie about the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan over the summer.
“I’m obviously not going to comment on leaked, purportedly leaked, transcripts of phone calls,” Blinken said in response to Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who questioned Blinken on whether he agreed with Biden’s handling of the phone call during the Monday hearing. “What the president said in that conversation with then-President Ghani is exactly what he was saying to in public.”
Blinken added that Biden said the “issue is not the capacity” of the “Afghan government and the Afghan security forces,” but whether they had the “will, and whether they had a plan” to hold important parts of the country.
The secretary of state also said the administration was “concerned” they were not demonstrating the will or a plan and also stressed that Ghani needed to “bring people together.”
Pressed again by the New Jersey Republican to comment on whether the leaked transcript was true, Blinken still refused to answer.
“Again, I’m not commenting on any purportedly leaked transcripts,” Blinken responded. “I’m telling you what, based on my knowledge of the conversation, the president said and what he said is exactly what he said in public.”
At issue was the transcript of a call Biden had with Ghani in July that was leaked to Reuters, which reported that Biden pressured Ghani to change the “perception of the Taliban’s progress in Afghanistan.”
“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. “And there is a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”
Critics have seized on the call, accusing Biden of lying to the American people about the situation in Afghanistan while knowing that it was quickly deteriorating.