The call to the U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan came in Monday. On the line, two U.S. officials said, was Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., with an unusual and urgent request: He needed assistance in transporting a huge amount of cash into the country, saying he was going to neighboring Afghanistan to rescue five American citizens, a woman and her four children, stuck in the country. They planned to hire a helicopter for the effort.
Mullin told the embassy that he planned to fly from Tblisi, Georgia, into Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, in the next few hours and needed the top diplomat’s help, according to the two U.S. officials familiar with the incident, who requested anonymity to disclose private conversations about a sensitive matter.
The answer was no. Embassy officials told Mullin they could not assist him in skirting Tajikistan’s laws on cash limits on his way to visiting one of the most dangerous places on earth.
Mullin was outraged by the response, the officials said – threatening U.S. Ambassador John Mark Pommersheim and embassy staff and demanding to know the name of staff members he was speaking with.
The episode marked Mullin’s second attempt to travel to Afghanistan in as many weeks for an unauthorized evacuation effort despite the perilous security environment. Last week, Mullin traveled to Greece and asked the Department of Defense for permission to visit Kabul. The Pentagon denied Mullin’s request, an administration official said.
Mullin’s behavior has alarmed top U.S. officials who say he has gone to extraordinary lengths to defy U.S. warnings. The attempt follows another unauthorized trip to Afghanistan by Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass, and Peter Meijer, R-Mich., last week, which Pentagon and State Department officials criticized as a public relations stunt that sapped government resources during a national-security crisis.
As of Tuesday, all Mullin’s office would say was that he was safe. They would not reveal his location.
“To say this is extremely dangerous is a massive understatement,” said one State Department official, requesting anonymity to discuss the sensitive situation.
The remaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan left on Monday, bringing an end to America’s longest war. The U.S. military helped evacuate more than 120,000 people, including U.S. citizens, allies and at-risk Afghans. Secretary of State Tony Blinken said Monday that fewer than 200 American citizens remain in Afghanistan. The department suspended embassy operations and relocated its mission to Qatar, where diplomats are trying to find ways for the remaining Americans and at-risk Afghans in the country to leave.
The State Department reissued a level 4 travel advisory for the country on Monday, urging Americans not to travel there “due to civil unrest, armed conflict, crime, terrorism, kidnapping, and COVID-19.”
The State Department declined to comment on Mullin’s travel or interactions with the embassy. The White House declined to comment on Mullin but referred to press secretary Jen Psaki’s comments from last week urging Americans not to travel to Afghanistan.
Mullin, 44, grew up in Stilwell, Okla., where he was a standout wrestler and earned a scholarship to Missouri Valley College. Injuries derailed his athletic career, and at the age of 20, he took over his father’s plumbing business. He was also briefly a professional mixed martial arts fighter, and after being elected to Congress in 2012, he became known on the Hill for leading intense workout classes. A member of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Mullin voted against the certification of the 2020 election results.
Unlike Moulton and Meijer, Mullin did not serve in the U.S. military. He has been an outspoken critic of the Biden administration’s exit from Afghanistan.
“This is a sad day for our country,” Mullin said in a statement Monday night. “Americans have been stranded in Afghanistan by the Biden administration and are now left to defend themselves from terrorists overrunning the country. One motto of our military is ‘leave no man behind.’ But today, that’s exactly what President Biden did.”
Mullin’s repeated attempts to enter Afghanistan follow multiple efforts by the Biden administration to dissuade members of Congress from traveling to the country after Moulton and Meijer’s unauthorized trip last week. The two members, who arranged for their own transportation into the country, said they wanted to provide oversight on the evacuation efforts at the airport. They eventually left on a flight used for evacuating Americans and Afghans.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has issued several warnings against lawmakers trying to travel there.
“We don’t want anybody to think that this was a good idea and that they should try to follow suit,” she said last week.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., concurred: “I don’t think it’s smart for others to go,” he said last week. “You’re putting yourself – not just yourself, but you’re putting Americans – in harm’s way, if the military has to protect you, which they will do.”
On Tuesday, McCarthy went silent and walked away after being asked if he had spoken to Mullin or if he knew where the Oklahoman was.