By CBSBoston.com Staff

SALEM (CBS) — Rep. Seth Moulton is facing heavy criticism from government officials over his secret trip to Afghanistan. U.S. officials told CBS News that the visit to Kabul’s airport amid American and Afghan evacuation efforts was “irresponsible” and “selfish.”

The Salem Democrat made the journey with Republican Congressman Pete Meijer, who is also an Iraq War veteran. They said the intention was to “conduct oversight” of the chaotic evacuation following the Taliban takeover.

“It’s selfish, irresponsible, and dangerous for our brave women and men on the ground. They will be occupying seats on their return to the U.S. that should be going to those in need,” a U.S. official told CBS News.

A senior administration official also tells CBS News, “Whether intended or not, this is nothing but a distraction at a moment when time is key and every seat on planes leaves should be for someone trying to get out of Afghanistan.”

“As Members of Congress, we have a duty to provide oversight on the executive branch,’” the two Congressmen said in their statement. “We conducted this visit in secret, speaking about it only after our departure, to minimize the risk and disruption to the people on the ground, and because we were there to gather information, not to grandstand.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference Wednesday “There’s a real concern about members being in the region.”

“This is deadly serious,” she said. “We do not want members to go.”

“We don’t want any Massachusetts person left behind or any citizen of the United States to be unnecessarily left behind,” said Sen. Ed Markey, of Massachusetts.

Rep. Lori Trahan, of Lowell, told WBZ-TV that she believes Moulton had “nothing but good intentions.” But she also said it’s been made clear to members of Congress that this is a “complex and dangerous mission.”

“Right now, anything that detracts from what the actual mission is, if you’re not an active serviceman or woman participating in this evacuation, then you’re a distraction and at worst a liability,” she said.

Moulton defended his trip in a series of tweets.

“We did this visit in secret to reduce risks and impact on the mission and we insisted on leaving in a plane that was not full, in a seat designated for crew so that we didn’t take a seat from someone else,” he wrote. “Washington should be ashamed of the position we put our service members in, but they represent the best in America.”

In Moulton’s home district on the North shore, few thought the congressman was grandstanding. Here, they thought he simply wanted to help.

“Legitimately concerned,” said man in Salem.

“And I do believe having been there before himself that he definitely knows what’s going on there,” .said one of Moulton’s constituents in Salem.

Moulton and Meijer want President Joe Biden to push back the Aug. 31 deadline of withdrawing all American forces from Afghanistan because they don’t believe it will be possible to complete evacuations in time.

“After talking with commanders on the ground and seeing the situation here, it is obvious that because we started the evacuation so late, that no matter what we do, we won’t get everyone out on time, even by September 11. Sadly and frustratingly, getting our people out depends on maintaining the current, bizarre relationship with the Taliban,” they said.

The U.S. has evacuated more than 70,000 people out of Afghanistan since Aug. 14, according to Biden, but it’s not clear how many Americans in total are in the country.

CBSBoston.com Staff