Republicans’ legal action against US secretary of state for contempt would be the first time in history

House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Michael T. McCaul has threatened to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over a key document. If the committee goes through with it, Blinken will be the first secretary of state in history to ever be held in contempt.

The document is a dissenting cable that State Department employees reportedly sent before the Taliban took over Afghanistan on July 13th, 2021.

The cable warned about a “deteriorating” security situation and recommended the administration immediately begin evacuating allies — something the administration ultimately failed to do.

Back in March, the House Foreign Services Committee subpoenaed the Department of State for access to the document by May 11th. But the department failed to fully comply, choosing to instead send the committee a summary of the document, and giving them a classified briefing about the document.

In a letter sent to Blinken last week, McCaul asserted that the summary and briefing were far too little.

“Unfortunately, the information provided by the Department is insufficient to satisfy the Committee’s March 28 subpoena. That subpoena, which compels you to produce in unredacted form ‘[t]he Dissent Channel cable sent on or about July 13, 2021, reportedly signed by 23 State Department officials and the official response to it,’ must be complied with immediately,” the letter reads.

“Should you fail to comply, 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,” it adds.

Speaking with the Daily Mail, McCaul revealed that the contempt proceedings could start as soon as Wednesday, May 24th.

“We’ve given them ample time — three extensions of time. We tried to work this out, but unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that that’s going to work, and the next step will be to move to contempt proceedings,” he said.

“We plan to have a meeting of my committee on May 24, to hold the Secretary in contempt, and move that to the floor for a full vote by the House of Representatives,” he added.

He also said it’d be “interesting,” given as it’d mark the “first time in history” that a secretary of state has ever been held in contempt of Congress.

The Biden State Department has, for its part, called the committee’s potential move “unnecessary and unproductive.”

“It’s unfortunate that despite having received a classified briefing on the dissent channel cable as well as a written summary that the House Foreign Affairs Committee continues to pursue this unnecessary and unproductive action,” a department spokesperson told CNN.

“Nevertheless, we will continue to respond to appropriate oversight inquiries and provide Congress the information it needs to do its job while protecting the ability of State Department employees to do theirs,” the spokesperson added.

According to CNN, Blinken previously told the committee that he’d rather not share the document itself “due to concerns it could have a dangerous impact on diplomats’ use of the channel, which is a confidential way for them to share concerns with top State Department officials.”

Dovetailing back to McCaul’s letter, in it he laid out why the State Department’s actions thus far are inappropriate.

“[I]t is inherently problematic for the Department, which is the subject of the Committee’s investigation, to be permitted to withhold key material evidence and substitute its own abbreviated characterizations of that evidence for the original documents,” he wrote.

“The Committee is aware of no other type of investigation (whether law enforcement, Inspector General audit, or internal compliance) where this is standard operating procedure,” he continued.

He also offered several alternative means by which Blinken may still comply with the subpoena, including by redacting “all names and other identifying marks” from it.

“In the alternative, the Committee is willing to review in camera an unredacted copy of the cable and official response, with an agreement that it will not publicly disclose the names of any signatories without that signatory’s permission, or the Committee will accept an in camera review of the cable and response with only names redacted,” the letter reads.

As for the dissenting cable, it was first revealed by The Wall Street Journal in a report filed on Aug. 19th, 2021.

“An internal State Department memo last month warned top agency officials of the potential collapse of Kabul soon after the U.S.’s Aug. 31 troop withdrawal deadline in Afghanistan, according to a U.S. official and a person familiar with the document,” the paper reported.


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