House GOP lawmaker readies contempt charge over Afghanistan dissent cable

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken greets people after speaking about the roll-out of the International Religious Freedom Report at the State Department in Washington, Monday, May 15, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON – The Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is threatening to push forward a legislative effort to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt of Congress next week if he does not release a classified cable sent from U.S. diplomats in Kabul shortly before the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told reporters Monday that the House Foreign Affairs Committee could vote on the contempt charges at a hearing May 24.

The State Department has said it is trying to provide Congress with “appropriate” information on the cable while also protecting its employees. The so-called dissent channel has for decades provided a way for diplomats to discreetly voice concerns about strategy. They are automatically classified to protect the identities of the Foreign Service officers.

McCaul has battled with the Biden administration for months over gaining unprecedented access to the messages as part of a larger Republican inquiry into the 2021 withdrawal. It has raised the prospect of a constitutional showdown on the ability of the legislative branch to conduct oversight.

The State Department has previously briefed McCaul on the substance of the cables, but he said he was not satisfied. With their House majority, Republicans have launched a slew of investigations into the Biden administration, including its withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“I want to see the original content, and I also want to see the secretary's response,” McCaul told reporters. “It’s a state of mind in the embassy at the time, and to have 23 dissenters is very significant.”

The vast majority of the 123 cables sent since 1971, when the dissent channel was created during the Vietnam War, have remained classified, according to the National Security Archives at George Washington University. The State Department has long protected the cables from being released publicly.

McCaul said he expected the State Department to respond to his previous threats with a letter Thursday. He expected it to be a “counter-offer.”

A contempt of Congress charge would require a full committee vote before going to the House floor. With Republicans’ slim majority in the chamber, it is possible the vote to hold Blinken in contempt could pass the chamber. The charge does not carry the force of prosecution, but it serves as a referral to the Department of Justice to consider charges.


AP Writer Farnoush Amiri and AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.