Democratic Senator Robert Menendez issues threat to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin over refusal to testify
WASHINGTON, September,15 (AA): US Sen. Robert Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, threatened Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and others with a congressional subpoena on Tuesday after the Pentagon chief declined to testify before lawmakers.
Austin was invited to attend Tuesday’s committee hearing on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan alongside Secretary of State Antony Blinken, but Menendez said he declined to appear and said that decision “will affect my personal judgment on Department of Defense nominees.”
“I expect the secretary will avail himself to the committee in the near future, and if he does not I may consider use of committee subpoena power to compel him and others over the course of these last 20 years to testify,” said Menendez.
It is exceedingly rare for a committee chairman of the same party as the incumbent administration to issue such threats.
Menendez, who is a hawkish Democrat, lambasted the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying it was “clearly and fatally flawed” as Blinken, the top diplomat, attempted to defend its execution before lawmakers for a second consecutive day.
The US under President Joe Biden ended its 20 year war in Afghanistan last month, and hurriedly evacuated some 124,000 people in the final two weeks after the US-backed government collapsed in the face of a lightning Taliban offensive.
There are roughly 100 Americans remaining in Afghanistan, and the Biden administration has maintained that while they are free to leave under agreements brokered with the Taliban, the US nationals have chosen not to do so yet for a litany of reasons.
Last week saw the first commercial flight depart Afghanistan since the Taliban assumed full control of the country with a host of foreign national, including Americans, on board. Other groups have left the country overland.