You see it in White House briefings, Justice Department excuses and inaction, agency dissembling. A culture of impunity is rising. Biden’s Secretary of State Tony Blinken is the latest sign. He is about to be held “in contempt” by Congress for failure to produce a “dissent cable” – to which Congress has a right – on the dishonorable, indefensible, fatal Afghanistan pullout.
Terms of the legal battle are drawn. If Blinken refuses to comply with the congressional subpoena, he will become the first Secretary of State ever to be held in contempt. The contempt citation will produce a criminal referral to Justice – which Justice will ignore as Blinken knows.
What the contempt vote means is this: To protect himself and the President from more political embarrassment over Afghanistan, the Secretary is willing to dishonor a constitutional request to which any oversight committee – Republican or Democrat – has a legal right.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) has stated the case. Biden and Blinken failed miserably. That failure requires documents be produced for corrective action.
McCaul’s staff noted: “Should Blinken continue to refuse to comply with the committee’s subpoena, the panel will mark up a resolution holding him in contempt of Congress…If that passes, a resolution would be sent to the full House for a floor vote.”
Said McCaul: “The American people, particularly veterans and gold star families, deserve answers on how the Afghanistan withdrawal went so catastrophically wrong,” and that “dissent cable” and State’s response to it “are key evidence.”
Seldom are things more clear. Still, State continues not to comply with this lawful subpoena, arguing they are “protecting the dissent channel.” That is utter nonsense, and all know it.
That argument has no merit. State – with White House approval – is hiding behind protection of officials who got it right. The “dissent memo” is from those who dared challenge the President’s and Secretary’s decision and execution, a disaster that killed US marines, left hundreds of Americans, tens of thousands of US allies at Taliban mercy – and gave them billions in arms.
Congress – and the American people – have every right to see that memo, to see the response to it, no redactions, no changes, no missing attachments, no over-classification.
My past lives included being an Assistant Secretary under Powell for training police in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo, Colombia, around the globe. It also included serving as chief counsel for an oversight body of the House responsible for deep oversight of State during the 1990s.
With that combined perspective, while foreign operations are often hard, not always successful, frequently complex, involve US and foreign allies, multiple US agencies, and last for years, none of these qualifiers upends or diminishes the basic requirement State comply with the subpoena.
There is literally no basis for failure to comply. While accommodations were sometimes made with the Clinton White House, State, Defense, and Justice leadership for which our committee had oversight, the Clinton team always complied with subpoenas.
This is to say: We are living in an unaccountable, untethered, increasingly post-constitutional period when a valid congressional subpoena is blithely disregarded, compliance stiff-armed by executive fiat. That is not what our Founders would have expected from Blinken, or Biden.
Sadder, Secretary Blinken is a well-trained lawyer. He was chief counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He knows well the importance of complying with a congressional subpoena, demonstrating respect for rule of law, honoring Congress’s constitutional oversight authority – He knows he should produce the cable.
So, what is going on? That is not just a question of the hour but far broader. By all appearances, a bold culture has permeated the Biden Administration, and Blinken is just part of it. The culture is one calling opponents “enemies of the people” and blocking oversight at every turn.
This Administration’s culture – we see it everywhere, from the border and law enforcement to ignoring oversight – is one of single-party defiance, hubris, not caring about accountability.
What we are seeing in this latest attempt to blunt congressional oversight is emblematic, symbolic. Biden’s disoriented, ill-fated, dishonorable departure from Afghanistan, fleeing the Taliban, is bad enough. Not producing a basic dissent cable and response is sobering. But this whole thing is bigger. This is Biden’s culture of impunity. That, in the end, is what must stop.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.