February 28, 2024


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McCaul threatens to hold Blinken in contempt of Congress for ‘withholding’ key Afghanistan documents

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, is threatening to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt of Congress, accusing him of failing to hand over key documents related to the U.S.’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.

At the heart of the issue are interview notes that were used to put together the State Department’s After-Action Review (AAR) of the Afghanistan withdrawal.

‘The Committee’s patience has been exhausted, and it requires these files to complete its investigation and make legislative recommendations for this Congress to consider,’ McCaul wrote.

‘Should the Department fail to produce the… files outlined below by March 6, 2024, the Committee is prepared to hold you in contempt of Congress.’

He also accused Blinken of choosing ‘politics over policy’ with the State Department’s decision to ‘withhold’ the documents.

It’s notably harsh language for McCaul, whose relationship with Blinken is relatively more cordial than that of other House Republican committee chairs investigating the Biden administration.

In his letter, he noted multiple instances in which McCaul accused the department of stonewalling, including after he first requested notes from interviews with State officials taken by then-Ambassador Dan Smith, who led the AAR in September 2023. 

He also listed ways in which the committee sought to accommodate the department. For example, McCaul wrote that the committee offered to redact names and address security concerns after State officials told him providing the notes would have a ‘significant chilling effect on the Department’s ability to conduct thorough and impactful lessons learned efforts to improve our foreign policy-making.’

‘On November 28, 2023, the Committee once more requested the interview notes, stating that the Department had failed to produce any high-priority items in its last eight productions,’ the letter said. ‘For the next month, the Department stated the priority items requested, including the AAR team’s interview notes, ‘either belong to a third agency or implicate significant Executive Branch confidentiality interests.’’

When committee staff stressed that the documents were critical to the House’s probe, State officials responded that the decision was above their ‘paygrade,’ according to the letter.

‘The Department’s stated reasons for withholding the interview notes are not rooted in law and, in fact, contravene Congress’s constitutional and statutory oversight authority,’ McCaul wrote. ‘It is appalling that over two years after the deadly and chaotic withdrawal, the Department continues to choose politics over policy.’

The Afghanistan AAR placed blame on both the Trump and Biden administrations for the disastrous withdrawal in August 2021.

It said, ‘there was insufficient senior-level consideration of worst-case scenarios and how quickly those might follow.’

The report said President Biden’s decision to follow through with former President Donald Trump’s vow to withdraw troops from Afghanistan – and to set a Sept. 11 deadline for it – ultimately ‘compounded the difficulties the Department faced in mitigating the loss of the military’s key enablers.’

It was also critical of the Biden administration’s decision to hand over control of Bagram Air Base to the Afghan government, a decision that also earned Biden bipartisan condemnation from national security hawks.

Fox News Digital reached out to the State Department about McCaul’s letter but did not immediately hear back.

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