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Deal on Afghanistan withdrawal docs brings House GOP to drop Blinken subpoena threat

The State Department has agreed to let representatives on the foreign affairs panel view a confidential diplomatic cable from 2021.

WASHINGTON (CN) — On the heels of a deal for lawmakers to view a confidential diplomatic cable known as a dissent channel, the Republican head of the House’s foreign policy committee formally walked back his threat Monday to take would have been drastic, albeit not unprecedented, action against a sitting member of the White House Cabinet.

Texas Congressman Michael McCaul has for months been pressuring Secretary of State Antony Blinken to turn the 2021 dissent channel from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, positioning it as a vital part of his panel’s investigation into the U.S. military's 2021 exit from the country.

The private cable, designed to allow State Department staff to disagree with policy decisions from Washington, could paint a sordid picture of the withdrawal, which some GOP lawmakers have derided as a diplomatic and military failure.

McCaul subpoenaed Blinken for the dissent cable in April and threatened to hold him in contempt of Congress if he did not comply, a serious measure that has only been used once on a sitting Cabinet official — Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder — in 2012.

Late last month, however, McCaul signaled that he would not act on the subpoena because the State Department had agreed to let him, alongside the foreign affairs committee’s Democratic ranking member Gregory Meeks, view a partially redacted version of the dissent channel at the agency’s Washington headquarters.

McCaul nevertheless refused to take his subpoena completely off the table and urged Blinken to allow all members of the panel to get eyes on the confidential cable — an agreement that appears to have been struck Monday.

The terms of such a deal, including where lawmakers will review the dissent channel and whether the document will be redacted, were not immediately clear. A spokesperson for McCaul did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.

The Texas congressman meanwhile framed the agreement as a win for congressional oversight.

“This is an unprecedented step forward in our committee’s investigation into the Afghanistan withdrawal,” McCaul said in a statement. “For the first time in history, the State Department has agreed to allow Congress to view a dissent channel cable.”

The lawmaker said that the deal satisfied his subpoena and thanked Secretary Blinken for negotiating in good faith.

McCaul’s agreement with the State Department represents a slightly softer approach than his initial demand that the agency make the contents of the Kabul dissent channel publicly available. Blinken had expressed reticence to take such action, arguing that publicizing the names and comments of agency staff who had submitted to the dissent channel under the pretense of confidentiality would have a chilling effect on future use of what the secretary of state called an important mechanism for engagement.

Lawmakers from both parties have been working to secure access to the Kabul dissent channel for years — Meeks, a New York Democrat who chaired the foreign affairs committee until January, had requested similar documents from the State Department as far back as 2021.

Under their new House majority, congressional Republicans have been pressing hard on the Biden administration to divulge information about the Afghanistan withdrawal. The State Department partially obliged in April, handing over a long-requested after-action report written by Kabul Ambassador Dan Smith.

Although the White House has argued that the lion’s share of blame for the rocky exit falls on the Trump administration, which negotiated a drawdown agreement with the Taliban in 2020, the GOP has pointed to Ambassador Smith’s report as evidence that the Biden administration is also culpable.

Regardless of blame, the 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan cost hundreds of lives. During one notable incident in April 2021, an attack at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport killed 13 U.S. servicemembers and more than 150 Afghan citizens. The country is now largely controlled by a Taliban government.

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