Congress Threatens To Subpoena Blinken for Blocking Investigation Into Bungled Afghanistan Withdrawal

With Republicans in control of House, Afghanistan evacuation has emerged as a top priority

Antony Blinken
Antony Blinken (Getty Images)
March 21, 2023

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is threatening to issue a subpoena to compel Secretary of State Antony Blinken to produce a litany of documents detailing the administration’s mishandling of the deadly 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Blinken has until Wednesday to produce scores of internal "documents pertaining to the Biden administration’s catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan" that left 13 Americans dead. "Failure to produce these documents ahead of Secretary Blinken’s March 23 testimony will result in the committee issuing a subpoena," Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), the committee’s chairman, wrote to Blinken in a letter sent Monday, ahead of the secretary’s scheduled appearance before the House committee.

McCaul’s committee has been seeking these documents since August 2021, but the State Department has only produced a fraction of the requested communications, most of which are heavily redacted. McCaul is seeking documents that could show the Biden administration knew the Taliban would quickly retake control of Afghanistan, but proceeded anyway. This includes "all reports, intelligence assessments, and intelligence community products" produced by the State Department that detailed the "potential collapse or sustainability of the pre-Taliban government."

McCaul says he is fed up with the State Department’s failure to comply with Congress’s legally mandated oversight powers. Congress has been unable to discern the truth about the botched evacuation for years now, and with Republicans in control of the House, this issue has emerged as a top priority. Blinken is expected to face a litany of questions about Afghanistan when he appears before the Senate on Wednesday to discuss the State Department’s 2023 budget proposal. On Thursday, Blinken will testify before McCaul’s committee, where it is also expected he will face questions about the administration’s refusal to hand over Afghanistan-related documents.

The State Department must produce all the requested documents by 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday in a "complete and unredacted form. In the event the department fails to comply with this request, the committee will proceed with compulsory process," according to the letter.

To date, the State Department has turned over 218 pages of documents, which were released in late January in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Nearly 88 pages consisted of a publicly available 2021 report on Afghanistan that did not address any of the issues surrounding the evacuation. "Most of the remaining pages included extensive redactions that severely limit their usability and value," according to McCaul.

The document cache also included heavily redacted talking points issued by the State Department that were ultimately provided to the press, according to a copy of these documents reviewed by the Free Beacon. It is unclear why the State Department censored information it was putting out publicly.

Basic information about the administration’s response to the unfolding chaos and subsequent terror attack that killed 13 American service members also is redacted in the documents.

"Many of the redactions in this production appear to cover answers prepared for the question-and-answer portion of documents containing talking points for press engagements," McCaul wrote. "The department redacted information from Congress that it was prepared to share with the public at the time the documents were generated."

The State Department additionally "failed to provide any legal justification or privilege log for these extensive redactions."

The State Department says it is having trouble producing these documents due to their classified nature and the inclusion of sensitive national security information.

But the Foreign Affairs Committee routinely accesses documents of this nature and is equipped to process them. Many of the requested documents could "be produced extremely quickly if they were genuinely prioritized by the department. The committee routinely receives highly classified documents and information from the department on the most sensitive issues confronting U.S. foreign policy, including ongoing threats posed by foreign adversaries."