May 8, 2023 - Politics & Policy

McCaul threatens legal action to get Afghanistan cable

Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas and ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, listens during a hearing in Washington, D.C.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) listens during a hearing. Photo: Ken Cedeno/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) is threatening to pursue legal action against Secretary of State Antony Blinken if the State Department doesn't comply with a subpoena for an internal cable about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Why it matters: McCaul's threat escalates an unprecedented effort by House Republicans to obtain sensitive information as part of their probe into the chaotic U.S. exit in the summer of 2021.

  • "The Department is now in violation of its legal obligation to produce these documents and must do so immediately," McCaul wrote in a letter addressed to Blinken, dated Friday.
  • The State Department has until the evening of May 11 to produce the document under a subpoena issued by McCaul's panel.
  • After that, McCaul's letter said, "the Committee is prepared to take the necessary steps to enforce its subpoena, including holding you in contempt of Congress and/or initiating a civil enforcement proceeding."

Between the lines: The House GOP investigation into the Biden administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan has hinged on a July 2021 dissent memo that reportedly warned about the potential fall of Kabul to the Taliban if troops withdrew.

  • State has briefed members of Congress about the cable and provided summaries, but not the cable itself — despite the March subpoena.
  • "[I]t 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," McCaul wrote.
  • McCaul offers ways of addressing some of the agency's security concerns about releasing the cable, including redacting officials' names or other identifying information.

The big picture: This isn't the first time McCaul has pressured the State Department to be more forthcoming with its information and analysis of what went wrong in Afghanistan.

  • Last month, the chairman called on Blinken to declassify and make public a sensitive, 87-page review of the U.S. withdrawal.
  • The White House acknowledged in its summary of the classified reports that its evacuations from Afghanistan should have begun sooner — but largely placed blame on the Trump administration, which had reached an agreement with the Taliban for the U.S. withdrawal.

What they’re saying: “It’s unfortunate that despite having received a classified briefing on the dissent channel cable, as well as a written summary, that the House Foreign Affairs Committee continues to pursue this unnecessary and unproductive action,” a State Department spokesperson told Axios in a statement.

  • “Nevertheless, 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.”
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