Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks at the American Foreign Service Association Memorial Plaque Ceremony at the Department of State on Friday, May 5, 2023.(Source: POOL via CNN)

GOP threatens Blinken contempt charge over Afghanistan docs

By FARNOUSH AMIRI Associated Press

Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivers remarks at the American Foreign Service Association Memorial Plaque Ceremony at the Department of State on Friday, May 5, 2023.(Source: POOL via CNN)

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee has threatened to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt of Congress if the State Department does not turn over classified cables related to the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, pledged in a letter Friday — obtained by The Associated Press — to escalate the ongoing battle with the State Department over a so-called dissent cable written by diplomats at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul shortly before the August 2021 withdrawal. The new deadline for the State Department to respond is Thursday.

The threat is the latest in an already unprecedented effort by McCaul to force the release of sensitive documents to Congress, setting up what could become a constitutional showdown between House Republicans and the Biden administration on the ability of the legislative branch to conduct oversight.

The July 2021 communication in question reportedly warned Blinken about the potential fall of Kabul via a special ”Dissent Channel,” which allows State Department officials to issue warnings or express contrarian views directly to senior agency officials.

House Republicans have argued over the last two years that access to these documents is key to fulfilling one of their campaign promises: holding the Biden administration accountable for what went wrong as the Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan in August 2021 and the U.S. left scores of Americans and hundreds of Afghans who helped them over the years in grave danger. With the power of the gavel, McCaul has been able to elevate that criticism into aggressive congressional oversight and on a topic that has been met with bipartisan support in the past.

The State Department has pushed back, saying that providing the dissent cable to the committee would threaten the integrity of the classified reporting process and the people who wrote them.

The Dissent Channel was created in 1971, in part to address U.S. diplomats’ concerns over the Vietnam War, and the State Department has held communications closely. Nearly all such cables are classified to protect the integrity of the process and the identities of dissenting Foreign Service officers. They are not generally intended for public consumption, but some have been leaked to the press, often by their authors.

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