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Secretary of State Antony Blinken

McCaul threatens to hold Blinken in contempt over Afghanistan files

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is facing a fresh contempt threat from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) over an Afghanistan withdrawal document dispute.

McCaul is specifically seeking access to interview notes compiled by former Ambassador Dan Smith. Smith spearheaded the State Department’s official after-action review that detailed the chaotic 2021 U.S. military pullout from Afghanistan. The interview notes, which memorialize the withdrawal and were used to form the after-action review, are seen by the Foreign Affairs Committee as “vital” to oversight efforts.

McCaul wrote to Blinken on Monday that if State doesn’t turn over Smith’s interview notes by March 6, the panel would move to hold Blinken in contempt of Congress.

The background: McCaul has been engaged in a year-long back-and-forth with the State Department over access to files shedding light on the Afghanistan withdrawal, which culminated in a deadly August 2021 terrorist attack that killed multiple U.S. service members. The Texas Republican was close to marking up a contempt resolution aimed at Blinken in 2023, but he backed off after securing access to a key dissent cable.

In the months since, McCaul has grown dissatisfied with State’s response to turning over key documents that helped form the after-action review.

According to McCaul, State officials have told committee staff that Smith’s interview notes are “being withheld by the White House and National Security Council.”

“The law does not afford the State Department blanket authority to hide behind ‘Executive Branch confidentiality interests’ to obstruct Congress’s access to the truth,” McCaul wrote.

In August 2023, we reported that State sent a tranche of withdrawal documents to the Hill. This came after Blinken called McCaul and expressed a willingness to cooperate further with document production.

The relationship between Blinken and McCaul is more cordial than the dynamic between most GOP committee chairs who are investigating Biden cabinet officials. But in his latest letter, McCaul accused Blinken of acting in bad faith in the Afghanistan investigation oversight process.

“It is appalling that over two years after the deadly and chaotic withdrawal, the Department continues to choose politics over policy,” McCaul wrote.

This is a bit of whiplash from McCaul, who seems to be all over the map on where he stands with Blinken on any given month.

— Max Cohen

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