McCaul Questions Blinken on Continued Failure to Produce Dissent Cable, Threatens SubpoenaPress Release
Washington, DC – Today, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul questioned U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on his continued failure to produce the July 2021 Dissent Channel cable gravely warning of the disastrous consequences of the Biden administration’s approach to the withdrawal and the department’s official response. In the hearing, Chairman McCaul informed Secretary Blinken that he must produce the cable by close of business Monday or face a subpoena.
Chairman McCaul first requested the cable in August 2021, and in January 12, March 3, and March 20 letters. Then-Chairman Gregory Meeks also requested the cable in August 2021.
The State Department has failed to provide any legal justification for withholding the dissent cable, instead citing a 1975 precedent of the department refusing to produce a cable on Cyprus to Congress. The author of that dissent cable, retired Ambassador Tom Boyatt, provided the committee a statement strongly objecting to the department’s rationale:
“And in a statement [former Ambassador Boyatt] provided to the Committee, he says that any claim providing them to Congress would have a, quote, chilling effect – as your staff has claimed – is, and I quote him directly here, ‘Bullshit.’ Not my words, those are the ambassador’s,” said Chairman McCaul.
“He writes, quote, ‘Congressional oversight enhances executive responsibility and enables us to learn from the inevitable mistakes.’ End quote. So, I believe this committee and the American people, after what happened, for God’s sakes after what happened, in that dreadful August, need to see the cable and sir, we need you to respond. And if you fail, I am prepared to serve you with a subpoena,” concludes Chairman McCaul.
-Questions and Answers as delivered-
Chairman McCaul: We had a very powerful and compelling hearing on the events in Afghanistan, at the end when the Abbey gate was compromised and the suicide bomber went off and people were killed, and I think the American people deserve answers. And they want people to be held accountable for that. We haven’t had a public hearing, specially on Afghanistan, until the one we had two weeks ago. And we heard testimony, that I was quite frankly unaware of, that we had [the suicide bomber] in our sights. The sniper had him and he could have been taken out, and the threat could have been eliminated and lives could have been saved.
This is why we have asked you for documents. And so I want to go through the document requests that we made.
On January 12th, I sent you this letter requesting documents related to the Afghanistan withdrawal – we did not get that at that time, we did not get that production.
On January 30th, we requested three specific items to be delivered.
February 7th – most importantly, the dissent cable. As you know, 23 of our state department officials at the embassy in Kabul took the extraordinary measure to raise their dissent to the policy serve that you and your administration were effectuating. I think the American people need to see this. We need to know what their dissent was – why were they objecting to your policy in the failed withdrawal from Afghanistan.
I sent another letter on March 3rd and another one on March 20th. In fact, [then] Chairman Meeks requested this dissent cable in an August 2021 letter – that again, no response.
Yet here we are today. The after-action report, I want to thank you for that production, and I know the ambassador’s after-action review is going to be presented in three weeks, but we need this dissent cable. And I think the American people deserve to see it – to know what in the world was going on in those critical weeks. Especially after the testimony of Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews – he deserves to know. Christy Shamblin deserves to know what the dissent was.
I have the subpoena – it’s right here. And I’m prepared to serve this. Now we’ve had discussions, and I think, you know, as a formal federal prosecutor, you want to work things out but when you can’t, you have to go forward with a subpoena, an arrest warrant, and an indictment.
So sir, I am going to give you until the close of business on Monday to produce that dissent cable to this committee, and this Congress, so the American people can see what the employees at the embassy in Kabul were thinking about your policy they dissented from. Do you have any response?
Secretary Blinken: Yes, thank you so much, Mr. Chairman. First, I want to make clear that we are working to provide all the information that this committee is looking for, and that oversight responsibility given to the authority to secure and as you noted, we just produced the embassy action plan, 1000s of pages that go along with that. We are committed to making available and sharing the substance of the after action review within the next three weeks, and you heard that from the White House.
And as with the dissent channel cable, I appreciate everything you are saying. Let me put this very briefly in perspective for members of the committee who may not follow this – this tradition of having a dissent channel is one that is cherished in the department, and one that goes back decades – it’s a unique way for anyone in the department to speak truth to power as they see it without fear or favor. And they do it, by the regulations that we established for these cables in a privileged and confidential way. It is vital to me that we preserve the integrity of that process and of that channel – that we not take any steps that could have a chilling effect on the willingness of others to come forward in the future, to express dissenting views on the policies that are being pursued.
I read every dissent channel cable that I get. I respond to every dissent channel cable that I get, and we factor into our thinking what we hear from colleagues who have a different view. By our regulations, these cables may only be shared with senior officials in the department. Again, that’s to protect the integrity of the process to make sure we don’t have a chilling effect on those who might want to come forward, knowing that they will have their identities protected and that they can do so, again, without fear or favor. Having said that, I very much understand and appreciate that there is a real interest in the substance of that particular cable by this committee. In that spirit, following up on conversations that we’ve already had, uh, again, we are prepared to make the relevant information in that cable available, including through a briefing or some other mechanism. So, I am determined to have our team follow up, and Mr. Chairman, as we’ve discussed, we’ll continue to work that in the coming days. I hope that we can reach an accommodation – I really do understand and appreciate the importance of the substance of that information being shared with the committee and I hope we can find a way to do it that meets both of our needs.
Chairman McCaul: Well, I hope so too. And the subpoena specifically, we ask for the dissent cable – I know it is classified as well and I appreciate that, but I do want to mention your department cited then-Secretary Henry Kissinger’s refusal to provide a dissent cable to Congress in the 1970s as a precedent. I would argue you do not have an executive privilege on this cable. And then we reached out to the author of that dissent cable, Ambassador Tom Boyatt, earlier this week. He said the reason Henry Kissinger refused to release the cable was because it was so damaging, so damning. Ambassador Boyatt is emphatic about the need for the State Department to produce dissent channel cables.
And in a statement [former Ambassador Boyatt] provided to the committee, he says that any claim providing them to Congress would have a, quote, chilling effect – as your staff has claimed – is, and I quote him directly here, “Bullshit.” Not my words, those are the ambassador’s.
He writes, quote, “Congressional oversight enhances executive responsibility and enables us to learn from the inevitable mistakes.” End quote.
So, I believe this committee and the American people, after what happened, for God’s sakes after what happened, in that dreadful August, need to see the cable and sir, we need you to respond. And if you fail, I am prepared to serve you with a subpoena.
The chairman’s full opening remarks ahead of Secretary Blinken’s testimony at today’s hearing on the department’s budget and state of U.S. diplomacy can be found here.