Washington Post: 'Sleep-deprived' Jake Sullivan 'bungles' line about visa processing for Afghans

Media top headlines August 24

In media news today, critics express outrage as Biden again takes no questions on Afghanistan, DeSantis blasts Associated Press in an open letter, and Psaki gets panned after saying it’s ‘irresponsible’ to say Americans are ‘stranded’ in Afghanistan

The Washington Post accused White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan of bungling his lines after claiming not a single special immigrant visa (SIV) had been processed since March 2020 when the Biden administration took office in January. 

“When we took office in January, the Trump administration had not processed a single special immigrant visa since March of 2020, in nearly a year,” Sullivan said at a Monday press briefing.

The White House would later update his statement, clarifying Sullivan meant to say the Trump administration had not conducted a single SIV interview since March of 2020.

After some digging, Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler found neither of those statements to be accurate. Data showed a slowing of visas in the first few months after March 2020 at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, but the processing picked up steam by the second half of the year.

In the SIV quarterly reports, the number of people interviewed for the visas in Kabul was zero, Kessler acknowledged. But, he noted, the reports also showed two Afghans were scheduled to be interviewed during the July-September period and nine were scheduled to be interviewed in October-December, reportedly outside Afghanistan.

“There were relatively few interviews this quarter because U.S. Embassy Kabul was closed for in-person visa services due to the prevalence of COVID-19 in Afghanistan,” said the report from December. “In all nine cases, the applicants requested to have their interview conducted at an alternate post.”

That data, the fact checker argued, calls into question Sullivan’s claim. 

Kessler began to give Sullivan the benefit of the doubt, saying he is “probably sleep-deprived” considering the chaos of the past week and may therefore be allowed a “slip of the tongue.”

“Nevertheless, the White House has yet to correct the transcript, noting the mistake,” Kessler wrote. “For the historical record, this is important. Mistakes in speeches can live on forever, as President Bill Clinton discovered with one error that was corrected by the White House immediately — but not in the transcript. So we would expect this error to be corrected in the official transcript before it is repeated.”

Sullivan’s apparent error is the latest in a string of misleading statements and non-answers from the Biden White House in the wake of the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. Last week, President Joe Biden falsely said international allies had not cast doubt on America’s leadership during the crisis, after several world leaders openly questioned the U.S.’s actions. He also claimed his senior advisers had not told him to delay the withdrawal of U.S. troops, despite reports stating the opposite. 

Even left-leaning media have hit the White House for oftentimes “bizarre” messaging that seemed out of touch with reality.

“There’s a serious disconnect between the messaging from the Biden administration, which is essentially, ‘We’ve got this, we have a plan, we’re getting this under control. If you want to get out of Afghanistan, you can,'” the Associated Press’ Julie Pace said on Sunday’s “Inside Politics.” “And then what we’re seeing on the ground from really brave reporters who are there, from a lot of Afghan civilians who are sharing pictures of images of the scene outside the airport where, no, you cannot get out if you want to get out.”

The Pentagon press briefings of the past two weeks have also appeared to leave Americans with more questions than answers, with press secretary John Kirby repeatedly saying they do not know how many Americans are still in Afghanistan. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki raised eyebrows Monday when she said it was unfair to say those Americans were “stranded.”

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