White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was caught flat-footed during the daily press briefing when she was asked about a group of California students who are trapped in Afghanistan.
Psaki was asked Wednesday if she knew about an LA Times report that a group of students and their parents from California’s El Cajon Valley School District are currently stranded in Afghanistan.
The reporter asked, “The LA Times has a story saying that a group of students and their parents are in Afghanistan. Do you have any more information on that or is that?–“
“I do not. Who have recently traveled into Afghanistan?” Psaki stated in response, appearing confused about the report.
The reporter noted that the students and their families are “apparently stranded in Afghanistan, having traveled there? I don’t I don’t know for certain.”
Psaki then replied, “I certainly don’t have additional information on that. I know, as our secretary of state just noted, when he went through a a thorough summary of American citizens and our contacts and our focus over the last several days, he gave an update. I am happy to take their information if there is something more detailed to have.”
Psaki’s response during the briefing came as a surprise to congressional advocates for the American citizens trapped in Kabul.
Fox News has learned that Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who represents the 50th district of California where the El Cajon Valley School District is located, notified the White House, Pentagon and the State Department about the plight of trapped American children, students and parents, in recent days.
“Jen Psaki said in a previous briefing to contact the White House with names of stranded American citizens…so we did,” said Jonathan Wilcox, communications director for Issa.
Issa’s office has been in contact with the citizens who are having incredible difficulty getting past Taliban checkpoints and passing through the gates of Kabul Airport to safety. They have also received reports on the ground in Kabul that Americans only have a 24-hour window to evacuate the country.
Issa staff also say that the State Department has been slow to respond to emergency requests and have to date failed to manage this crisis. In addition, reliable information has been very difficult to get or receive.
Wilcox told Fox News in a statement that Psaki is “dead wrong” for claiming American citizens are not stranded in Afghanistan, as evidenced by the American citizens within Issa’s district who are still trapped.
“Congressman Issa and staff are aware of the location of several American citizens in Afghanistan, and we have been in direct and consistent contact with them. They are scared, stranded and trapped in the Kabul area. So far, they’ve been unable to reach the airport. I know Jen Psaki has previously said this isn’t happening, but she’s dead wrong,” said Wilcox.
Wilcox continued, “[Issa] also continues to lead our work to confirm visas, passports and other documentation for the people we know are trapped, and we are in consistent contact with official channels including the State Department and the Pentagon, as well as those on the ground in Afghanistan. He is doing everything he can to push those in charge to take emergency action and they should by now be very aware that he’s on this case. We believe that we have made a significant difference, but there is still work to be done to make sure everyone gets home safely.”
Psaki said it was “irresponsible” to say that Americans are stranded in Afghanistan in an exchange with Fox News’ Peter Doocy during Monday’s press briefing. “I think it’s irresponsible to say Americans are stranded. They are not. We are committed to bringing Americans who want to come home, home.”
Doocy followed up and asked whether “there are no Americans stranded” is the official White House position.
“I’m just calling you out for saying we are stranding Americans in Afghanistan when we have been very clear that we are not leaving Americans who want to return home,” Psaki said. “We are going to bring them home and I think that’s important for the American public to hear and understand.”
Psaki then told reporters to contact the White House with the names, contact information and any other new information about American citizens or Afghan partners who want to leave Afghanistan and the government would help them evacuate.
Fox News’ Cam Cawthorne contributed to this report.