McCaul escalates Afghanistan subpoena fight amid Blinken’s ‘noncompliance’

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, on Thursday ordered the US State Department to comply with his subpoena for documents on the chaotic withdrawal of troops in 2021 and asked for two top State Department officials to appear before the committee for a transcribed interview.

In a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, McCaul said: “The paucity of documents produced to date by the department is unreasonable and unacceptable.”

“The department’s anemic subpoena response suggests that it is either deliberately obstructing the committee’s oversight, or that its document retention, location, and production procedures are astoundingly deficient. Neither is acceptable,” he also wrote.

This comes after McCaul subpoenaed Blinken last month to hand over the Afghanistan After-Action Review files to the committee by July 25. As of Thursday, August 10, the department had only turned over 16 documents.

In his letter Thursday to Blinken, McCaul requested for the State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs Assistant Secretary Naz Durakoglu and Acting Legal Advisor Richard Visek to appear before the committee on or before August 21 for a transcribed interview so the panel can “better understand the reasons for the department’s continued failure” with compliance.

McCaul told Blinken the State Department has “a legal obligation to produce the subpoenaed documents in a timely manner without further delay, and I intend to hold the department accountable.”

The Congressman also detailed previous correspondence, and said the department has consistently failed to produce the AAR files despite repeated committee requests, culminating in the issuance of a subpoena.

The committee first requested documents related to the AAR and identified them as a priority in January 2023. On March 3, McCaul requested immediate production of “a current draft of Ambassador Smith’s After-Action Report (including any associated documents such as exhibits or appendices),” and warned in a March 20 follow-up letter that he would proceed with a subpoena if the department did not comply.

To avoid a subpoena, the department provided the AAR on April 6, but it failed to produce any associated documents, despite the AAR clearly identifying the AAR files as such.

On April 25, McCaul requested the AAR files by May 5, but this deadline passed with no response from the department. In subsequent letters on June 8 and June 20, he warned that he was prepared to move forward with compulsory process if the AAR files were not produced.

Ahead of a June 26 deadline, department officials assured committee staff they were working in good faith to produce the AAR files but needed additional time to do so, estimating that the collection could be produced within several weeks.

“Given these assurances, I extended the deadline for production to July 14 as an accommodation,” McCaul said.

However, the department abruptly reversed its position in a July 7 call, stating that the timeline for production had changed and could no longer be estimated, citing vague purported “executive branch interests” and the “sensitive” nature of the documents.

Committee staff informed the department that they expected a substantial production by the July 14 deadline. Instead, at the deadline the department only produced 16 pages of the AAR files, consisting of four identical copies of a memorandum, and two copies of a public order by President Joe Biden.

Following the department’s repeated failure to comply with the committee’s requests, McCaul issued a subpoena to the department on July 18, compelling production of the AAR files by July 25, 2023. The department responded to the subpoena with a mere 57-page production, over a third of which consisted of duplicates, McCaul said.

He also stated that the department refuses to identify the total volume and scope of the AAR files, the number of responsive documents identified to date, or provide a timeline for production. In refusing to answer these questions, department officials have asserted that they are themselves unclear on the volume and scope of the AAR files, he said.

The department’s claims of unspecified interagency equities and an undefined universe of documents appear to be contradicted by the AAR itself, which states that the “Department of State has preserved the material in this collection as permanent records that will be managed according to Records Disposition Schedules approved by the US National Archives and Records Administration,” and that the “[c]itations within this report all direct to records retained within the Afghanistan AAR files, with the exception of certain published material.”

McCaul said: “The department is in violation of its legal obligation to produce the subpoenaed documents in their entirety and must remedy this delinquency without further delay.”