GOP panel chair pressures Blinken on Afghan withdrawal document

Elijah Nouvelage

The House Foreign Affairs Committee chair has threatened to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt of Congress if he does not turn over a classified cable reportedly warning that Kabul could collapse soon after the August 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The letter escalates a monthslong standoff between the House committee and the Biden administration, which has so far been unwilling to turn over the document to Congress. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, on Monday released a May 5 letter demanding the State Department provide Congress with an unredacted version of the July 13, 2021, cable and its official response.

McCaul threatened Blinken with contempt of Congress and a possible civil enforcement proceeding if he does not comply with the committee’s request by 6 p.m. Thursday or provide a legal basis for withholding the document.

“The dissent cable and official response are critical and material to the Committee’s investigation into the catastrophic Afghanistan withdrawal,” McCaul wrote in his letter.

State Department employees can use the “dissent channel” to communicate dissenting foreign policy views with senior officials. A Wall Street Journal article said the cable warned that the Taliban could seize control of Kabul soon after U.S. troops withdrew from Afghanistan.

In late March, the committee issued a subpoena to Blinken over the cable. On April 27, the State Department gave the committee a briefing on the cable’s contents and its official response. The department also provided Congress with a one-page summary of the dissent cable, as well as with a summary of the official response that came in at just under one page, according to McCaul’s letter. The letter adds that the actual cable is four pages long.

“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,” McCaul wrote in his letter.

He claimed that the State Department officials who led the briefing were “unwilling or unable” to answer several of the committee’s questions on the topic.

In a statement, a State Department spokesperson said the committee’s actions were “unnecessary and unproductive,” as the panel had received a classified briefing and summary of the cable.

“We will continue to respond to appropriate oversight inquiries and provide Congress the information it needs to do its job while protecting the ability of State Department employees to do theirs,” the spokesperson said.

The administration has previously expressed concerns that releasing the cable could compromise the identity of the cable’s signatories.

The cable is one part of McCaul’s investigation into the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which saw 13 U.S. service members killed at Kabul’s airport. Last month, the Biden administration released a summary of its assessment of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, largely faulting the Trump administration for the chaos that unfolded.

GOP panel chair pressures Blinken on Afghan withdrawal document