Foreign Affairs Chairman Threatens to Hold Blinken in Contempt over Afghanistan Withdrawal Document
Representative Michael McCaul (R., Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned Antony Blinken that he might be held in contempt if the State Department does not produce a dissent cable in which diplomats warned about the repercussions of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
McCaul’s committee has been investigating President Joe Biden’s decision to pull troops out of that country. In March, after making multiple good-faith attempts to obtain the cable, the committee issued a subpoena to the State Department for its release. Blinken and his colleagues have yet to release the document, missing the most recent deadline of May 1, already extended from its original subpoena return date of April 4.
“The Department is now in violation of its legal obligation to produce these documents and must do so immediately,” wrote McCaul in the letter.
The July 13, 2021, memo was sent to the secretary through the Dissent Channel, a messaging framework that allows State employees to express disagreement with the government’s policy on a particular issue. The cable said that the Biden administration had been warned by its own officials that the Taliban’s advance was coming sooner than the administration had anticipated and correctly predicted that Afghanistan’s military would be unable to stop it, according to the Wall Street Journal. 23 U.S. Embassy staffers signed the cable.
Biden campaigned on a promise to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan. In public statements, the administration expressed surprise at how fast the Taliban were taking over the country. A culminating point of the withdrawal was the terrorist attack on Kabul Airport’s Abbey Gate, which killed 13 U.S. service members and at least 170 Afghans. The committee heard testimony in March that the U.S. military did not permit service members to engage the suspected suicide bomber before the attack occurred.
According to McCaul’s letter, State has provided the committee with a summary and briefings on the memo but refuses to release it. “It is inherently problematic for the Department, which is the subject of the Committee’s investigation, to be permitted to withhold key material evidence and substitute its own abbreviated characterizations of that evidence for the original documents,” read the letter.
It added that the administration has previously misrepresented source material conclusions in the summaries it has released. “The Department’s classified AfterAction Review specifically contradicted inaccurate and misleading assertions in the White House summary and press briefing that there was not ‘chaos’ during the emergency evacuation at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport and that the Administration did not bear significant responsibility for the failures of the withdrawal,” the letter read.
McCaul explained that the State Department’s briefers were unable to answer basic questions and made multiple inaccurate statements.
The Foreign Affairs chairman also quoted several ambassadors who have refuted the State Department’s grounds for refusing to release the cable. In a letter to McCaul, the State Department said that sharing cables outside of the department would have a profound chilling effect upon those who would consider writing a cable in the future.
However, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who served as President Obama’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, has said it ought to be released with the names of the signatories redacted.
Ambassador James Jeffrey, who served as Ambassador to Iraq in the Obama Administration, said “the issues here are too important . . . to inhibit a full airing of what went wrong, if only to preclude doing the same thing again.”
“It is very hard to understand why those drafting this cable would see this as inhibiting their and others’ willingness to dissent in future contingencies, but rather as assurance that the political process is functioning as it should and that administrations will truly consider dissenting views. Furthermore, the possibility that such views will eventually be reviewed by Congress and the public would likely encourage the department to take dissent seriously, which is the whole point of the Dissent Channel,” Jeffrey explained.
The deadline McCaul gave Blinken was May 11, at which time the secretary will be held in contempt or a civil enforcement proceeding will be initiated.