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Republicans move to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt of Congress

By Ben Marquis
|
May 12, 2023

The Republican-led House Foreign Affairs Committee has repeatedly requested and subpoenaed -- and been repeatedly denied -- an internal State Department "dissent channel cable" warning about the dire situation in Afghanistan in July 2021, and a final deadline of May 11 was set for the department to hand over that subpoenaed document.

That deadline has now passed without the subpoenaed document being received, so Republican Committee Chair Michael McCaul (TX-10) is now preparing to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt of Congress, the Daily Mail reported.

If that actually occurs, Blinken would be the first secretary of State to ever be held in contempt of Congress in U.S. history.

Blinken Could be Held in Contempt of Congress

Chairman McCaul told the outlet on Thursday that formal contempt proceedings could begin within the next couple of weeks on May 24 in direct response to the department's failure to comply with a March 28 subpoena, for which the deadline has been extended multiple times.

"We've given them ample time. Three extensions of time we tried to work this out, but unfortunately, it doesn't appear that that's going to work and the next step will be to move to contempt proceedings," the congressman said. "We plan to have a meeting of my committee on May 24, to hold the Secretary in contempt, and move that to the floor for a full vote by the House of Representatives."

The sought-after classified document was sent on July 13, 2021, on a special internal dissent cable channel from U.S. officials on the ground in Afghanistan that warned of the rapidly "deteriorating" situation and urged immediate action to evacuate all Americans and allies at once ahead of Taliban advances in that country --  a warning that appears to have been ignored.

"American people and the veterans and the Gold Star families are right to know what the thinking was in the embassy at the time to take the extraordinary measure to dissent from the policy," McCaul told the Daily Mail and noted that while he didn't "particularly relish" taking action against Sec. Blinken it had nonetheless become necessary.

"We also want to see Secretary Blinken's response to the dissenting cable to see what the state of mind was a month before the debacle and the collapse of Afghanistan which culminated in the killing of 13 service men and women," the chairman added.

Department Briefing Contradicts Claims in Committee Letter

During a State Department briefing on Thursday, spokesman Vedant Patel was asked about the deadline that day to turn over the subpoenaed document and replied, "We will continue to engage with the House Foreign Affairs Committee and discuss with them on their requests."

"As I have said before, the department has already offered a classified briefing and a summary of the dissent channel cable, as well as the department’s response," he added. "We believe that this information has been sufficient to meet what the committee has requested thus far, but we, again, will continue to engage with them. And I just don’t have any updates to offer right now."

That response, however, does not comport with a letter sent on May 8 from Chairman McCaul to Sec. Blinken which specifically deemed the prior classified briefing and provided summary to be "insufficient" to fulfill the committee's requests.

He took issue with the one-page summary of the four-page cable and wrote, "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."

The chairman also had a problem with "inaccurate statements" from the Department's briefers and their being "unwilling or unable to answer basic questions" from the Committee, and wrote, "The briefers’ inability to answer basic factual questions casts doubt on the summary’s sufficiency and reliability and strengthens the needs for the Committee to continue to seek access to the original documents called for in the subpoena."

"The Department is now in violation of its legal obligation to produce these documents and must do so immediately," McCaul concluded in the May 8 letter that set May 11 as the final deadline for compliance. "As noted above, should the Department fail to comply with its legal obligation, 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."

Department Spokesman Says Threat of Contempt is "Unfortunate"

In response to Chairman McCaul's threat to hold Sec. Blinken in contempt of Congress, Department spokesman Patel told the Daily Mail, "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."

"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," he added.

If the GOP-led House moves forward with this matter and votes in a couple of weeks to hold Blinken in contempt of Congress, it would then be up to the Justice Department and Attorney General Merrick Garland to actually press any legal proceedings, which obviously seems rather unlikely to occur.