On Friday, Sabrina Siddiqui, a White House correspondent with The Wall Street Journal, and Associated Press photographer Evan Vucci were summoned to a private meeting in White House communications director Kate Bedingfield’s office.
There, they were let in on a huge secret: President Joe Biden — who was scheduled to depart for Poland at 7 p.m. for the anniversary of the start of the Russia-Ukraine war — would be sneaking into Kyiv. The two journalists would be the only members of the press tagging along, according to a pool report from Siddiqui on Monday that detailed how the whole secret trip went down.
Biden was last seen going out to dinner on Saturday night for a Valentine’s week meal with his wife Jill, enjoying a plate of rigatoni with fennel sausage ragu. Of course, now we know that Biden slipped out of the White House in the middle of the night and popped up 20 hours later in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine. But how the trip — one of many secret trips to warzones by presidents — came about is fascinating.
“Your pool was sworn to secrecy about the trip and told to look out for an email containing instructions for an early Sunday morning departure from Andrews Air Force Base,” Siddiqui wrote. “The subject line would read: ‘Arrival instructions for the golf tourney.'”
The reporters were told to report to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, where the president’s planes and helicopters are kept, between 2 a.m. and 2:15 a.m. EST on Sunday.
Once at the base, the journalists’ phones were taken by Secret Service agents — they wouldn’t get them back for nearly 24 hours. They were then taken not to the massive 747 with the robin’s egg blue trim but instead to an Air Force C-32 often used to fly into smaller airports during domestic travel.
The plane, shades drawn, sat in the dark next to a hanger and away from the tarmac where it is typically parked for presidential travel until Biden boarded. It departed at 4:15 a.m. EST. With a president on board, the plane was now officially “Air Force One,” but the Air Force jet used the call sign “SAM060” for Special Air Mission.
The plane landed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany at 5:13 p.m. local time after a seven-hour flight to refuel. It remained with its shades down for the duration of its time on the ground, which lasted about 75 minutes.
The plane took off again in the dark at 6:29 p.m. At 7:57 p.m., AF1 landed at the Rzeszów-Jasionka Airport in Poland. But the journalists did not see Biden get off the plane before they were led to an SUV for press.
The president’s motorcade — some 20-plus vehicles, a mix of nondescript minivans and SUVs — began rolling at 8:12 p.m. on a roughly one-hour drive along a fairly empty eastbound highway. There were no sirens, no flashing lights, nothing to call attention to who was on board.
Biden’s motorcade arrived at the Przemyśl Główny train station at about 9:15 p.m. There were just a handful of people milling about outside the station, and the train stalls were seemingly all closed. The motorcade pulled directly up to a train with the shades mostly drawn.
The president was dropped off directly in front of his train car, and the press pool was escorted to its own train car and put in separate sleeper cabins, each containing four single bunkbed-style beds. Siddiqui says she was told by a security officer that the train had about eight cars, including the engines. Most of the train was occupied by a heavy security presence.
“A small group of passengers awaiting a separate train on the opposite side of the tracks were huddled in conversation and occasionally glanced over, but it was unclear if they could make out any of the activity unfolding before them,” Siddiqui wrote.
The train departed at 9:37 p.m. and crossed into Ukraine around 10 p.m.
It would take 10 hours for the train to reach its destination. There were a handful of stops, at least one to pick up additional security, along the way. It was not always clear what prompted the stops, most of which were brief.
At about 8 a.m., the train carrying the president came to a stop at the Kyiv-Pasazhyrsky station. U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink awaited Biden on the platform along with his staff. A few minutes later, Biden disembarked and said: “It’s good to be back in Kyiv.”
The motorcade, a mix of SUVs and minivans along with armored vehicles — but no presidential limo, the heavily fortified vehicle that weights 20,000 pounds and is known as “The Beast” — rolled from the train station at 8:18 a.m. en route to Mariinsky Palace.
There were just a few officials along for the ride: National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon, and the director of Oval Office operations, Annie Tomasini. There were plenty of Secret Service agents, along with a military aide carrying the so-called “nuclear football,” a few members of the medical team, and the official White House photographer.
In the visit, Biden met with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, did a walkabout at St. Michael’s Cathedral, and stopped by the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.
Throughout the visit, Siddiqui supplied pool reports to other journalists but never in real-time so as not to divulge Biden’s current location. The White House had also let Russian President Vladimir Putin know in advance about Biden’s trip, the first time in modern history that a president visited a warzone without the full protection of the U.S. military.
Overhead, U.S. surveillance planes, including E-3 Sentry airborne radar and an electronic RC-135W Rivet Joint aircraft, kept watch over Kyiv from Polish airspace while Biden was there, the AP reported.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told the AP that the trip “required a security, operational, and logistical effort from professionals across the U.S. government to take what was an inherently risky undertaking and make it a manageable risk.”
Biden departed Kyiv by the same train at 1:10 p.m. and crossed the border back into Poland shortly after 8 p.m. local time, arriving at the Przemyśl Główny at 8:45 p.m.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
Joseph Curl has covered politics for 35 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent for a national newspaper. He was also the a.m. editor of the Drudge Report for four years. Send tips to [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @josephcurl.