The Free Beacon and Fox News create fake scandal over energy secretary’s attendance at Ukraine summit

Site claims Secretary Granholm’s military flight strained the “limited time and operational resources” for Afghanistation evacuation. In fact, the U.S. military has lots of planes — and the flights from Kabul were speeding up.

The Washington Free Beacon and Fox News have taken political aim at Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, trying to turn her attendance at a major international summit last week into a fake scandal.

Granholm led the U.S. delegation to Kyiv, Ukraine, for a summit attended by representatives of 46 countries and international organizations, highlighting a unified resolve against Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region since 2014.

But in a Free Beacon article posted on Saturday, then reposted at Fox News, writer Alana Goodman wrote that Granholm had “chartered a military jet to attend a diplomatic summit in Ukraine as the Pentagon struggled to evacuate Americans and allies from Afghanistan with limited time and operational resources.”

But while the article made it seem like the want of a single U.S. military aircraft could drive Afghanistan operations to a standstill, at the time of Granholm’s Ukraine flight the pace of daily flights leaving the Kabul airport had already increased at least six-fold from earlier lows. As a result, over 100,000 people have been evacuated in roughly two weeks in a highly complex operation.

The article nevertheless quoted an unnamed former Trump administration official, who claimed that the “standard operating procedure” such an administration official using a military flight “does not apply during a national security crisis, these moments require judgment.” The official also said, “The fact that the White House chose to send a cabinet member overseas on a non-mission essential visit, unnecessarily diverting State Department and DOD resources is ludicrous, not to mention an abuse of taxpayer dollars."

(On the subject of what former Trump administration officials might think about Ukraine as an international priority: Trump was impeached by the House and acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate after he threatened to withhold military aid from Ukraine unless that country’s government announced an investigation against then-presidential candidate Joe Biden.)

In addition, the Free Beacon article also misled the readers about a government initiative that has ordered private airlines into assisting with the evacuation, suggesting that those airlines had been ordered to fly to Afghanistan: “The Pentagon instituted an emergency program called the ‘Civil Reserve Air Fleet,’  which ordered civilian airlines, including American Airlines and Delta Airlines, to provide planes to help the evacuation efforts from Afghanistan.”

In fact, commercial planes will not be flying into Kabul, but will instead provide assistance once evacuees have already been flown to “temporary safe havens and interim staging bases” in other countries.

Goodman also sought to liken Granholm’s flight to a major international summit to an early Trump-era scandal that brought down a cabinet member — and Goodman got key facts wrong there, too.

“Trump administration officials faced allegations of wasteful spending for their use of expensive military charters for trips that did not have national security urgency,” the article stated. “Tom Price, who served as health and human services secretary under former president Donald Trump, was forced to resign in 2017 after revelations that he took numerous overseas military flights and other private air travel, running up a $500,000 travel tab.” 

In fact, the total cost of Price’s air travel was over $1.2 million, of which military flights made up $500,000. He also frequently took private planes when cheaper commercial flights would have been available.

Granholm is a former senior adviser at Media Matters.