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GOP pauses Blinken contempt push after gaining access to classified Afghanistan cable

WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says he is pausing an effort to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt of Congress now that the State Department offered to let him review a classified cable from U.S. diplomats in Kabul sent shortly before the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, agreed Thursday to review the July 2021 communication that reportedly warned the U.S. about the potential fall of Kabul via a special dissent channel. State Department officials have used the classified messaging platform for decades to issue warnings or express contrarian views directly to senior agency officials.

McCaul accepted the condition to view the document with the names of those who signed it redacted. The same offer was made to the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, but McCaul urged State to grant access to all other committee members also.

The State Department did not immediately return a request for comment.

McCaul had been threatening to schedule a committee vote next week to hold Blinken in contempt of Congress if he did not release the documents to lawmakers. If it passed, the contempt resolution would go to the House for a vote, and Republicans hold a slim majority there.

“In light of this invitation, I will pause efforts to enforce the Committee’s subpoena pending my review of the documents,” McCaul said in a letter to Blinken. “Please note, however, that the subpoena remains in full force and effect, and the acceptance of this accommodation does not waive any of the Committee’s rights regarding the subpoena."

The State Department had previously briefed McCaul on the substance of the cables, but the Republican chairman said he was not satisfied.

“I want to see the original content, and I also want to see the secretary’s response,” McCaul told reporters, adding that reading the cable would provide insight into the diplomats' state of mind in the embassy at the time, and any dissenting views. "To have 23 dissenters is very significant.”

The agency has argued that it has been trying to provide Congress with “appropriate” information on the cable while also protecting its employees.

McCaul has battled with the Biden administration over gaining access to the messages as part of a larger GOP investigation into what went wrong as the Taliban swept back to power in Afghanistan in August 2021.

At least 123 dissent channel cables have been sent since 1971, according to the National Security Archives at George Washington University. The vast majority of those have remained classified, and the State Department has long objected to efforts to force their release.