Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), an Army veteran and double amputee, excoriated Secretary of State Antony Blinken during the first congressional hearing on the botched Afghanistan withdrawal on Monday, telling him that families of the killed 13 service members deserve real answers over what happened.
Mast queried Blinken about the leaked transcript that showed President Joe Biden pressuring then-Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to change the perception of the security situation in Afghanistan prior to the withdrawal of all U.S. forces.
Mast asked Blinken whether Biden tried to get Ghani to manipulate the intelligence that things were not going well. Blinken said Biden did “absolutely not.”
According to the transcript, Biden had told Ghani in a July 23 phone call (emphasis added):
Hey look, I want to make it clear that I am not a military man any more than you are, but I have been meeting with our Pentagon folks, and our national security people, as you have with ours and yours, and as you know and I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things aren’t going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban.
And there’s a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.
Mast said the families of the 13 service members killed during the evacuation mission deserved honest answers on what happened. He held up each service member’s photo and spoke about their lives. He continued:
Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui. His family deserves to truly know that.
Marine Cpl. Daegan Page. His family truly deserves to know if that’s why they are missing their son, because intelligence was manipulated.
Marine Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20. Wife expecting their first child. Sister said he was going to be the best dad ever. They deserve to know if that’s what happened and that’s why everything went so wrong.
Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23-years-old. You can see her there holding a young child. Her family deserves to know if that’s why everything went so wrong, because that intelligence was manipulated.
Marine Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, just 20-years-old. The family deserves to know if that’s why everything went so wrong, is because intelligence was manipulated.
Marine Cpl. Humberto Sanchez, just 22-years-old. Mother said, ‘My kid was a hero.’ That’s what was said, that’s what his mother said — deserves to know if that’s why everything went so wrong, because the intelligence got manipulated.
Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz, 20-years-old. Family deserves to know if that’s why everything went so wrong.
Marine Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, son of two sheriffs, planned to follow in their footsteps. Their family deserves to know if that’s why everything went so wrong, is because you all worked to manipulate the intelligence of what was going on on the ground there.
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin Hoover. His family said, ‘I love you, son.’ ‘Check in on us, we will try to make you proud.’ They deserve to know if that’s what happened, if that’s how everything went so wrong in Afghanistan.
Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosariopichardo. Family deserves to know if that’s why everything went so wrong, because you all worked to manipulate the intelligence of what was going on with the Taliban.
Marine Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola, 20. Family said that he always had a smile on his face, was the kindest person. They deserve to know if that’s why everything went so wrong, because you all manipulated intelligence.
Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss. The ultimate honor he could give was to give back to his country. He would not be sorry, he would not regret it. That’s what his family said. They deserve to know if you manipulated intelligence, if President Biden manipulated intelligence and that’s what led to everything going so wrong.
Navy Corpsman Maxton Soviak, just 22. His family deserves to know if that’s why everything went so wrong.
We deserve hearings on what’s on with that leaked transcript. We deserve to know why there are others that remain in Afghanistan. Mark Frerichs, Navy veteran, disappeared in Khost Province January 30 of 2020. We deserve to know what’s going on with his release.
These are things that have to be answered for. I do not believe whatsoever what you are saying about the administration not working to manipulate that intelligence. To me, that is the most logical, the most logical explanation of how so many in the intelligence community got this so wrong about what was going to happen in Afghanistan, why it would seem somehow logical for President Biden to leave the most advanced military weaponry, why someone would not speak out against that, if they were getting false intelligence because it was coming from the top down to manipulate it, in my opinion that is absolutely aide and comfort to the enemy and I absolutely wonder if you are complicit in this as well.
I find it hard to believe that President Biden would do that without you being aware of this and these are things that we deserve to know better answers, have better hearings on this, I do not believe a word that you are saying on this.
When Blinken tried to respond, Mast cut him off, saying: “I do not wish to hear from you. I’m not yielding you a moment of time. I’m not yielding you a moment of time, I don’t wish to hear your lies. I heard your lies when you stepped in front of the camera, I’m not listening..no one should hear your lies.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-NY) then gave Blinken an opportunity to respond, to which Mast said: “We don’t need to hear lies.”