Tony Blinken Could Become First Secretary of State Held in Contempt of Congress

(Olivier Douliery/Pool via Reuters)
May 15, 2023

Tony Blinken could be the first-ever secretary of state to face criminal charges from Congress, after House Republicans said they plan to hold him in contempt for failing to produce documents about the botched Afghanistan withdrawal.

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael McCaul (R., Texas) said Sunday that he will "move forward to contempt proceedings" against Blinken. "This would be the first time a secretary of state has ever been held in contempt by Congress and it's criminal contempt, so I don't take it lightly," McCaul said on ABC’s This Week.

McCaul’s comments come after Blinken missed a deadline last Thursday to turn over a trove of internal State Department documents to the committee about the bungled evacuation that left 13 Americans dead. Included among the requested documents is a classified State Department dissent cable that is believed to show Biden administration officials knew the Taliban would quickly reassume control of the country once American forces departed.

The committee has already issued a subpoena for these documents, but the State Department is stonewalling the probe. McCaul warned Blinken earlier this month that his continued refusal to hand over the dissent cable would result in contempt charges. The dissent cable, sources said, is thought to be a smoking gun that could prove the Biden administration moved forward with the withdrawal even after it was told the outcome would be disastrous.

Contempt proceedings could take several weeks, and it’s possible Blinken could reach an agreement with the committee to turn over the documents in that time. The House Foreign Affairs Committee would first need to vote to send a criminal contempt recommendation to the floor, and then a full House vote would need to be scheduled.

McCaul accused the State Department of hiding "key evidence" from lawmakers investigating the Afghanistan evacuation, which also left hundreds of Americans stranded in the country under Taliban rule.

"The American people, particularly veterans and gold star families, deserve answers on how the Afghanistan withdrawal went so catastrophically wrong," McCaul told the Washington Free Beacon. "The July 2021 dissent cable from Kabul by 23 officials expressing dire concern over the Biden administration’s policy and the Department’s official response are key evidence."

Blinken would be the first secretary of state—and the third-ever cabinet official—to be held in contempt of Congress. In 1975, the House Select Committee on Intelligence voted to charge then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger for failing to turn over records about covert operations during the Nixon administration, but the committee later withdrew the recommendation. Former attorney general Eric Holder was held in contempt in 2012, and former attorney general Bill Barr was held in contempt in 2019.

"The Department is now in violation of its legal obligation to produce these documents and must do so immediately,"  McCaul wrote in a May 8 letter warning Blinken that charges could be brought against him. "Should the Department fail to comply with its legal obligation, the Committee is prepared to take the necessary steps to enforce its subpoena, including holding you in contempt of Congress and/or initiating a civil enforcement proceeding."

The State Department told the Free Beacon in March that it was having trouble producing all of the requested documents due to their classified nature, but that it had briefed McCaul and his committee several times on the contents of the communications.

"We are working as expeditiously as possible to accommodate what was an extensive and detailed request, and our provision of information and documents to the committee will continue as we collect and process additional responsive records," a State Department spokesman said at the time. The dissent cable is particularly problematic for the State Department, as it publicly identifies those American officials who came forward to warn against an early evacuation.

In addition to the dissent cable, McCaul has subpoenaed scores of internal documents that could provide the American public with a minute-by-minute accounting of the Afghanistan withdrawal, including "all reports, intelligence assessments, and intelligence community products." Most of the information currently produced by the State Department is heavily redacted, including public talking points that were ultimately provided to the press.