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House Republicans subpoena Blinken for dissent cable on Afghanistan withdrawal

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Washington — The Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has signed a subpoena to Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanding internal, sensitive cables from State Department officials working at the U.S. embassy in Kabul about the Biden administration's chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, the committee said.

Committee Chairman Michael McCaul has for weeks been warning that he would subpoena Blinken if he did not turn over the document, a dissent cable written by 23 State Department employees in Afghanistan, and his response. He officially signed the subpoena Monday night and it is set to be delivered to Blinken "first thing" Tuesday morning, according to the committee.

"We have made multiple good faith attempts to find common ground so we could see this critical piece of information," McCaul, a Texas Republican, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Secretary Blinken has refused to provide the Dissent Cable and his response to the cable, forcing me to issue my first subpoena as chairman of this committee."

As part of the committee's efforts to reach middle ground with the State Department, McCaul offered to review the cable in a private setting, instead of the document being delivered to the Foreign Affairs Committee. He also offered to let the State Department redact the names of the officials who signed the memo, the committee said.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the July 2021 cable warned State Department officials that the Afghan capital of Kabul would fall after the Biden administration's Aug. 31, 2021, deadline to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan. The cable, which was sent through the State Department's confidential dissent channel, according to the Journal, also warned of the Taliban's swift gains across the country and collapse of Afghan forces.

Created in 1971, the dissent channel is a mechanism through which State Department employees can express dissenting or alternative views on foreign policy issues to high-level officials.

The Foreign Affairs Committee's attempts to gain access to the cable date back to August 2021, when then-Chairman Gregory Meeks, a Democrat from New York, and committee Republicans separately asked Blinken to turn it and other documents over. 

The request was renewed in mid-January after the GOP took control of the House and again in March.

Blinken testified before the Foreign Affairs Committee last week, during which he was questioned about the failure to turn over the dissent cable but said the department is "working to provide all the information that this committee is looking for."

The secretary stressed that regulations related to the dissent channel allow cables to be written "in a privileged and confidential way."

"By our regulations, these cables may only be shared with senior officials in the department," he said. "Again, that's to protect the integrity of the process to make sure we don't have a chilling effect on those who might want to come forward, knowing that they will have their identities protected and that they can do so, again, without fear or favor."

Blinken told committee members that the State Department was prepared to make the "relevant information" in the cable sought by the committee available through a briefing or other mechanism. 

In response to McCaul's subpoena, State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel highlighted Blinken's comments last week committing to working with the Foreign Affairs panel to provide the information it seeks, "while upholding his responsibility to protect the integrity of the Department's dissent channel — a forum that was established in order to ensure that employees can share their candid, critical advice with senior Department leadership in a privileged and confidential way."

"The Department followed up with the Committee to reiterate its willingness to provide a briefing about the concerns raised and the challenges identified by Embassy Kabul, including in the dissent channel. The Committee chose instead to issue a subpoena," Patel said. "The Department remains committed to providing the Committee with the information it needs to conduct its oversight function, and has already provided thousands of pages of documents responsive to the Committee's request."

The subpoena is part of a broader pledge by House Republicans to investigate the Biden administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan, which GOP lawmakers have criticized as ill-planned and "disastrous." The House Oversight and Accountability Committee launched its own probe in February with requests for information from numerous government agencies, including the White House, State Department and Pentagon.

McCaul also convened a hearing this month to examine the circumstances leading up to and after the Biden administration's evacuation from Afghanistan.

The U.S. ended its military presence in Afghanistan in late August 2021, though the withdrawal was marked by chaos when the Taliban swiftly took over Kabul and then-Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. 

The rise of the Taliban to power set off a chaotic rush of Afghans attempting to escape the country, and scores of people descended on the gates of Kabul's main airport, which the U.S. military controlled, in hopes of boarding planes shuttling Afghans out of the capital.

Thirteen U.S. service members and roughly 170 Afghans were killed in a bombing at the Kabul airport in the final days of the U.S. evacuation.

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