WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Shortly after sunset on Wednesday, President Donald Trump secretly boarded an undisclosed aircraft at an undisclosed airport in Florida and flew to Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, according to pool reports from media who traveled with the president.
Air Force One, the plane Trump took from Andrews to Florida Tuesday evening, remained parked on the tarmac at Palm Beach International Airport as part of the subterfuge.
Meanwhile, at Andrews AFB, located just outside Washington, D.C., a dozen reporters in the White House travel pool were told to meet on the top floor of a parking garage at 7:15 p.m. ET on Wednesday. They were not told where they were going.
For about 16 hours, the pool reporters, who chronicle nearly everything the president says or does, went silent. When the news blackout was finally lifted at 2 p.m. on Thursday, pool reporters in Afghanistan told a fascinating tale of the clandestine operations that enabled Trump to sneak out of Mar-a-Lago and onto a military base in a country occupied by Islamic State and Taliban fighters.
According to the pool reports, vans drove the reporters from the top of the parking garage to a security checkpoint. They were required to surrender their cellphones and other devices that emit signals. From there, they went to a cavernous hangar where they boarded another Air Force One and awaited the president’s arrival.
The president boarded Air Force One at 9:49 p.m. and the plane took off 20 minutes later with its interior lights off and shades are drawn.
About 11 hours into the 13-hour flight, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham divulged their destination: Bagram airbase – the primary hub for U.S. air operations, located outside the Afghan capital of Kabul.
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Air Force One landed in the dark, with interior lights off and shades drawned. Trump ate turkey with the troops and met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. After about three and a half hours, Air Force One was wheels up for its return flight to the U.S.
As for the Air Force One that landed Tuesday at Palm Beach International, it was nowhere to be seen Thursday afternoon.
There was no word from the White House about whether the president will return to Palm Beach or stay in Washington for the remainder of the weekend. First lady Melania Trump and the couple’s son, Barron, have been staying with the president at Mar-a-Lago since Tuesday.
Follow Christine Stapleton on Twitter: @StapletonPBPost