Aug 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Republicans plot subpoenas tied to Afghanistan withdrawal

Taliban celebrate in Kabul

Taliban take to the streets in Kabul to celebrate anniversary of takeover. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are threatening to subpoena the State Department over the Biden administration's flawed withdrawal from Afghanistan in anticipation of taking back the majority in the midterms.

Why it matters: Winning the House would give Republicans subpoena power for the first time since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan one year ago, providing the GOP with new investigative tools to probe a key pain point in Biden's presidency ahead of 2024.

  • The chaotic scenes and deaths of 13 U.S. service members in a terrorist attack at Kabul's airport last August coincided with the start of Biden's sliding approval rating.

What they're saying: "They want Afghanistan to go away. You see this with their own internal reviews. They're either classified or they haven't released them," Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the committee and likely chairperson if Republicans regain the House, told Axios. "They just want Afghanistan to go away."

Driving the news: A new report released by the committee's Republicans on Sunday outlines failures in planning in the lead-up to last year's withdrawal, including claims the Biden administration "misled the American public about the likely consequences of its decision to withdraw unilaterally."

  • The Republicans also argue the Biden administration left key decisions on how to evacuate civilians from Kabul until the final hours before the city fell to the Taliban.
  • The report was led by Ryan Browne, a former CNN national security reporter who works as the lead Afghanistan investigator for the committee's Republicans.

Details: The report lays out a series of subpoenas and actions Republicans plan to take if they regain the majority in January, including:

  1. Subpoenaing the State Department for documents and notes relating to any agreements with the Taliban related to the evacuation of U.S. citizens and allies; information provided to the Taliban during the noncombatant evacuation operation "NEO"; any money or assets transferred by or at the request of the U.S. government to the Taliban; and all written plans related to the evacuation and flights both during the NEO and after.
  2. Demanding the declassification and public release of several materials.
  3. Subpoenaing testimony from 34 individuals Republicans requested to hear from in November of last year. These include Suzy George, chief of staff to Secretary of State Antony Blinken; Brian McKeon, deputy secretary of state for management and resources; and Scott Weinhold, the assistant chief of mission at the former U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
  4. Holding open hearings with top Biden administration officials such as Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and others.

The other side: The State Department told Axios it has provided over 150 briefings to members and staff on Afghanistan since the NEO, covering a wide range of topics — including the withdrawal, women's rights, relocation operations, counterterrorism and talks with the Taliban.

  • The House Foreign Affairs Committee alone has held 21 full and subcommittee hearings and Blinken has testified at two open hearings dedicated to Afghanistan.
  • The State Department's relocation team has specifically briefed House Foreign Affairs staff and other relevant committee staff every two weeks on relocation operations, before switching to every three weeks.

Axios also obtained a memo from the White House — now circulating on Capitol Hill — defending the withdrawal.

  • The diverging documents represent the split screen of how Democrats and Republicans are portraying the fall of Afghanistan one year later.
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