WASHINGTON (CN) — The chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is ready to issue a legal order, he warned America's top diplomat Thursday, to obtain documents concerning the U.S. military’s 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The threat from Texas Republican Michael McCaul came after Secretary of State Antony Blinken missed the congressman's first deadline in anticipation of his appearance before the panel this afternoon.
Critics of the White House, especially from the GOP, have argued that the April 2021 withdrawal was a military and diplomatic failure that led to the preventable deaths of both U.S. servicemembers and Afghan citizens.
McCaul told Blinken he would use legal intervention to extract communications from a specialized cable that allowed agency staff in Kabul to disagree with Washington’s foreign policy decisions.
“I think the American people deserve to see it,” McCaul said, referring to the communiqué known as a dissent channel or dissent cable, “to know what in the world was going on in those critical weeks.”
Holding up a copy of the subpoena, the Texas Republican said he would throw the book at Blinken if the State Department didn’t come up with the dissent cable by the end of the day March 27.
“As a former federal prosecutor, you want to work things out — but when you can’t, you have to go forward with a subpoena, an arrest warrant, an indictment,” McCaul warned.
Although Blinken responded that the State Department would do its best to provide the foreign affairs committee with the documents it wanted, he appeared hesitant to give up the dissent cable.
“This tradition of having a dissent channel is one that is cherished in the department, and goes back decades,” Blinken explained. “It’s a unique way for anyone to speak truth to power as they see it without fear or favor.”
The secretary of state argued that making public a confidential channel for agency staff to voice countervailing policy opinions could dissuade the mechanism’s future use.
“It is vital to me that we preserve the integrity of that process and of that channel,” Blinken said, “and that we not take any steps that could have a chilling effect on the willingness of others to come forward in the future to express dissenting views on the policies that are being pursued.”
So far, the State Department has sent the committee the Kabul embassy’s action plan for the withdrawal. It also plans to send an after-action report penned by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Daniel Smith in the next several weeks, Blinken said.
According to federal law, individuals who fail to comply with a congressional subpoena may be held in contempt of Congress and face a criminal investigation. Lawmakers have taken such drastic action against a sitting Cabinet official only once: in 2012 when the House voted to hold then-Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
The House’s foreign affairs panel has been frustrated by the snail's pace of production as the State Department gathers requested documents. The committee made its initial request back in August 2021, under then-chairman Gregory Meeks, a New York Democrat.
The department has explained the delay by citing the volume of documents requested and the time needed to pull them all together.
Plans to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan began in 2020 under then-President Donald Trump and came to a head in April 2021 with the evacuation of embassy staff and other noncombatants. During that process, an attack took place at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport that claimed the lives of 13 U.S. soldiers and more than 150 Afghans.
The country is now largely under the jurisdiction of a Taliban-controlled government.
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