(WASHINGTON) — The Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is threatening to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt if he doesn’t turn over subpoenaed documents tied to the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, marking a significant escalation in the months-long standoff between the Biden administration and Republicans investigating the chaotic withdrawal.
“Should the Department fail to comply with its legal obligation, the Committee is prepared to take the necessary steps to enforce its subpoena, including holding you in contempt of Congress and/or initiating a civil enforcement proceeding,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, wrote in a letter to Blinken on Friday, setting a deadline of this Thursday, May 11 at 6 p.m.
The document McCaul is demanding is what’s known within the State Department as a dissent cable — a memo sent through a classified channel for employees to flag their concerns to top levels of leadership — as well as the department’s official response to the cable.
According to a source familiar with the dissent cable in question, U.S. diplomats warned Blinken that the Afghan government was teetering on the brink of collapse and urged the administration to speed up its evacuation of Afghan allies over a month before the Taliban retook Kabul and the last American troops left the country.
Despite McCaul’s efforts, the State Department signaled on Monday that Blinken would not comply.
“It’s unfortunate that despite having received a classified briefing on the dissent channel cable as well as a written summary that the House Foreign Affairs Committee continues to pursue this unnecessary and unproductive action,” Principal Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said in a statement.
McCaul has maintained that the documents are vital to the panel’s probe into the final, chaotic days of America’s occupation of Afghanistan. After the committee’s initial request for the material went unfulfilled, he issued a subpoena — his first as chairman — in late March.
Blinken and other administration officials have argued that handing over the documents would jeopardize the integrity of the channel and State Department employees’ ability to privately voice their perspectives on critical matters.
The State Department has offered committee members other means of insight into the dissent cable through a closed-door briefing and summaries.
“Our viewpoint is that the materials and briefings that we’ve offered and provided have sufficiently met the mark when it comes to the committee’s legitimate oversight request,” Patel said during a briefing on Monday.
But McCaul disagrees.
In his letter to Blinken, the chairman blasted the briefers from the department, claiming they were either “unwilling or unable” to answer basic questions and made inaccurate statements. He also complained about the brevity of the department’s one-page summary of the four-page dissent cable.
Beyond the original, unaltered documents, McCaul said his committee would settle for either the cable and the department’s response with “all names and other identifying marks redacted,” an opportunity to privately review the unredacted material with an agreement that it will not publicly disclose the names of any signatories without their permission, or a chance to privately review the material with only the names of the names of the signatories redacted.
When asked whether the department would consider one of the alternative options, Patel balked, saying the administration felt the information it has already provided “sufficiently met the mark.”
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