The Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is warning that the State Department will face a subpoena if it fails to deliver on repeated document requests related to the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent Monday, McCaul set a deadline of Wednesday evening for the State Department to provide at least three documents requested.
The demand coincides with Blinken’s expected appearance on Thursday before the committee to discuss President Biden’s budget request for 2024.
McCaul said the committee is requesting the three specific documents based on a request by the State Department to identify materials considered the most consequential to the committee’s oversight duties.
“From its broader January 12 request, the Committee identified on January 30 three highly specific immediate priority items that are well-known to the Department,” McCaul wrote in the letter.
“All of the items specified on March 3 could be produced extremely quickly if they were genuinely prioritized by the Department. … A ‘diligent’ process working in good faith to produce these documents ‘as soon as practicable’ would have produced them long ago.”
McCaul has made it a priority for the Foreign Affairs Committee to investigate how the hasty, chaotic and deadly U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan unfolded.
Critics have blamed the U.S. intelligence community and the Biden administration for failing to identify the warning signs that the internationally backed government in Kabul would collapse, and for having little to no plan in place to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies.
A suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. service members, and wounded scores of others, at the Kabul international airport in the chaos of evacuations was viewed as a fatal security failure.
“Over 18 months after the fall of Kabul, numerous key questions about the withdrawal remain unanswered,” McCaul wrote in his letter.
“The Committee has an obligation to investigate how these grievous failures occurred and determine what actions, including potential legislation, are necessary to help prevent a similar catastrophe from occurring again in the future,” he continued.
Of the documents prioritized by the committee is a Dissent Channel cable reportedly sent in July 2021 by at least 23 foreign service officers serving at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, warning that the Afghan government was at risk of collapse in the face of a rapid advance by the Taliban.
A Dissent Channel is a formal communication procedure that allows State Department employees to bring to the attention of the secretary of State urgent, dissenting opinions on important foreign policy issues without fear of retribution.
The cable’s existence was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
“The Dissent Channel cable provides key contemporaneous evidence from U.S. officials on the ground in Afghanistan. “The Department’s formal response similarly offers critical insight into Department leadership’s view of these concerns and what actions they took to address them,” McCaul wrote.
“As such, these documents are critical and material to the Committee’s investigation, and it is imperative that the State Department produce them in complete and unredacted form.”
Other prioritized documents include an After-Action report prepared by Ambassador Daniel Smith, who was charged in December 2021 with carrying out a review of the Afghanistan withdrawal.
The committee also prioritized two iterations of the U.S. Embassy Kabul’s Emergency Action Plan, one that was in existence on Jan. 1, 2021 and the final iteration of the plan before the embassy’s closure in mid-August, 2021.
The letter to the secretary is an exhaustive retelling of efforts by Republican committee staff — who held the minority in the previous Congress and assumed the majority in January — communicating, coordinating, and appealing with frustration with State Department officials to produce documents they say are key to building a picture of the failures of the U.S. exit from Afghanistan.
The State Department explained its delay for providing the materials by citing the need to carefully review a large volume of highly sensitive documents.
“The State Department employs a rigorous process to review documents and ensure that documents containing sensitive information which could harm our national security, jeopardize our international relationships, or put our women and men working around the world in harm’s way, are adequately protected,” the State Department wrote to the chairman.
“For those reasons, unfortunately the process means few things are produced “with ease” and instead takes a bit more time.
McCaul called the Department’s failure to provide documents to the committee and its reasoning “unacceptable and unreasonable.”