Skip to content

Blinken avoids contempt vote for second time in Afghanistan probe

McCaul says Blinken agreed to start producing documents

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the House Foreign Affairs Committee were in disagreement over documents related to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the House Foreign Affairs Committee were in disagreement over documents related to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday avoided for the second time in less than a year a House panel’s vote on whether he was in contempt of Congress over documents related to the 2021 Afghanistan troop withdrawal.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has subpoenaed interview notes from the State Department staffers involved in producing Foggy Bottom’s After Action Review of the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan. 

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, announced that following a “good conversation” with Blinken on Wednesday night in which the secretary agreed to start producing the desired documents beginning on Thursday, he decided to postpone the markup of the contempt resolution scheduled for Thursday morning.

“These documents will provide crucial information for our investigation,” McCaul said in a statement. “I take the secretary at his word that we will get all these documents. But if the situation changes, I will have to revisit all our options to ensuring they are produced.”

McCaul has made probing the chaotic and deadly U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in summer 2021 one of the cornerstones of his oversight work since he took over as committee leader in 2023. 

The Texas Republican’s refusal to expand the scope of his investigation to include Trump administration actions, which include negotiating the 2020 Doha Agreement with the Taliban governing U.S. troop numbers and not putting enough consular resources into Kabul to process thousands of visa requests from Afghan allies looking to flee ahead of the full Taliban takeover of the country, have drawn accusations from Democrats that McCaul is acting in bad faith.

“We have done everything that we can to try and address their legitimate oversight needs,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said during a Wednesday press briefing, noting the department has made 15 of its current and former officials available for lengthy interviews with committee staff and has turned over roughly 15,000 pages of documents.

But he defended the Biden’ administration’s right of executive privilege to withhold certain types of internal deliberative information.

“We have the need to protect legitimate executive branch equities. We recognize that Congress has a need to conduct legitimate oversight authorities,” Miller said. “And so we’re in conversation with them. We’re trying to resolve this amicably as we have been successful in doing at previous points in the past year.”

Blinken previously avoided a House Foreign Affairs vote on contempt when the State Department last June agreed to allow committee members to review a 2021 so-called “dissent channel” cable signed by Kabul embassy staffers who disagreed with the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Historically, congressional adoption of contempt resolutions rarely result in criminal charges against executive branch officials. The Congressional Research Service found in a 2017 report that the Justice Department generally chooses not to prosecute if the executive branch official’s refusal to disclose information follows a presidential determination that the information is protected by executive privilege,

Two former Trump administration officials were convicted of contempt for refusing to testify to Congress, although both received the subpoenas after they had left the administration.

Stephen Bannon, a former Trump strategist, was convicted in 2022 on two counts after he failed to comply with a House committee subpoena related to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot in the Capitol. Bannon had left the White House in 2017.

Peter Navarro, another Trump adviser, was convicted on two counts last September after he didn’t comply with a subpoena related to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot. Navarro was still in the administration at the time of the riot, but the federal judge in the case found no evidence that Trump invoked executive privilege.

Recent Stories

Five races to watch in Pennsylvania primaries on Tuesday

‘You talk too much’— Congressional Hits and Misses

Senators seek changes to spy program reauthorization bill

Editor’s Note: Congress and the coalition-curious

Photos of the week ending April 19, 2024

Rule for emergency aid bill adopted with Democratic support