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The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

Republicans, White House clash over Afghanistan one year later

The Early 202

An essential morning newsletter briefing for leaders in the nation’s capital.

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In today's editionRep. Liz Cheney's next act… FBI threats spike in the wake of Mar-a-Lago search… ICYMI: The latest on the Trump document search … but first …

At the White House

Republicans and Biden administration clash over Afghanistan one year later

House Republicans and the White House are clashing over who’s to blame for the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan on the first anniversary today of the collapse of the Afghan government.

The Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee made public on Sunday the findings of their inquiry into the evacuation — “an apparent blueprint for a deeper investigation of the president and his top advisers should the GOP win the House majority in November’s midterm elections,” as our colleagues Karoun Demirjian and Tim Craig report.

  • “There was a complete lack and a failure to plan,” Rep. Michael McCaul (Tex.), the committee’s top Republican, told CBS News’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “There was no plan, and there was no plan executed.”

The White House has responded by circulating a memo seeking to discredit the report.

“This partisan report is riddled with inaccurate characterizations, cherry-picked information, and false claims,” Adrienne Watson, the National Security Council’s top spokeswoman, wrote in the memo. “It advocates for endless war and for sending even more American troops to Afghanistan. And it ignores the impacts of the flawed deal that former President Trump struck with the Taliban.”

What Republicans’ report says

When the last U.S. troops pulled out of Afghanistan on Aug. 31, 2021, President Biden said that “we believe that about 100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan with some intention to leave.”

House Republicans’ report claims that the real number was several times higher:

  • “The U.S. left ‘behind more than 800 American citizens, thousands of green-card holders, and tens of thousands of Afghans who directly aided the 20-year U.S. military campaign, as well as tens of thousands of other Afghans who were vulnerable to deadly reprisals,’” according to the report.
  • “The U.S. government has continued to facilitate evacuations and, as of late last month, 84 American citizens remained who were still trying to leave,” a committee aide told Karoun and Tim.

The report also spotlights details from other investigations into the withdrawal, including what happened to the Afghan security forces the United States spent $83 billion over two decades to train and equip:

  • “Following the Taliban takeover, ‘around 3,000 Afghan security forces consisting of high-ranking officers to foot soldiers, along with their military equipment and vehicles, crossed the border into Iran,’ the report says, citing a Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report published in May.
  • “If any have been recruited as intelligence assets by the Iranians, the committee aide said, it could pose a serious risk for U.S. national security, given how closely some units worked with U.S. troops.”

Still, the report — written without the subpoena power that Republicans would wield if the party reclaims the House in the midterms — doesn’t include big revelations, Karoun and Tim write.

  • “A Republican aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the committee, said that was because the State Department refused to turn over documents or consent to interviews, leaving investigators to rely on public records and materials provided by whistleblowers,” Karoun and Tim write.
  • “A spokesman for the agency said in response that officials had briefed Congress more than 150 times since the withdrawal, and continue to update lawmakers on efforts to relocate and resettle Afghans.”
The administration’s rebuttal

A White House official didn't confirm or deny Republicans' claim about how many American citizens were in Afghanistan when the U.S. pulled out but said that some of the Americans whom the administration helped to get out after Aug. 31 “had traveled back to the country since the U.S. withdrawal and then asked for assistance leaving Afghanistan.”

“Others had previously declined relocation assistance or were not previously registered with the Embassy,” the official wrote in an email to the Early. The U.S. government “does not track Americans when they travel around the world and Americans are not required to register at an Embassy when they enter a country, which makes it difficult to know how many Americans are in a country at any given time.”

The White House took aim in the memo at some of the report’s broader claims, including its argument — citing American military leaders and NATO allies — that “the best option was to keep an advisory and counterterrorism mission in place that consisted of 2,500 U.S. military personnel along with 6,000 mostly NATO forces.”

  • As Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “said in congressional testimony last fall, the tough decision the President faced when taking office ultimately wasn’t to stay or go: it was go or risk having to send even more U.S. troops to fight in a newly intensified 20-year civil war. They testified we would have had to deploy more forces to protect ourselves and accomplish any missions they would have been assigned.”

The memo — which was first reported by Axios — also argues that former president Donald Trump’s 2020 agreement to withdraw U.S. troops “empowered the Taliban and weakened our partners in the Afghan government.”

The three-page memo includes the word “Trump” nine times — nearly as many as Republicans’ report does in more than 100 pages.

One Year Later:

The campaign

Liz Cheney's next political move

Cheney’s next act: Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) “is looking far beyond Tuesday’s Republican primary for [Wyoming’s] at-large seat in the U.S. House, a race that she is likely to lose, barring an unprecedented surge of non-Republican voters into the GOP contest,” our colleague Paul Kane writes.

  • “Cheney will spend the months after the committee concludes its work later this year figuring out her next steps. That might be launching a political organization that focuses on Trump, or some think-tank work matched with media appearances.”
  • “Cheney and a small but influential bloc of anti-Trump Republicans have decided that there must be a 2024 candidate who will run as an unabashed opponent of both the ex-president and other contenders who spew his mistruths about the 2020 election … Cheney and her crowd want a candidate who would serve merely as a political kamikaze, blowing up his or her candidacy but also taking down Trump.”
  • Dmitri Mehlhorn, who advises several anti-Trump donors across the political spectrum, told Kane that “his team of anti-Trump donors would take a Cheney campaign, designed solely to attack Trump, ‘seriously’ enough that they could put at least $20 million behind it.”

In the agencies

In case you missed it: The latest on the Trump document search

There have been quite a few developments and a lot more reporting since Friday on the Attorney General Merrick Garland-approved FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. 

Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the committee's vice chairman, became the first set of bipartisan lawmakers to request information from the administration about the search. The duo asked the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to provide any classified documents obtained in the search as well as an assessment of any risk to national security posed by the presence of such documents at Trump's Palm Beach resort, according to a senior aide on the committee who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the panel's work.

Our colleagues Josh Dawsey, Rosalind S. Helderman, Jacqueline Alemany and Devlin Barrett provided a bird's-eye view of the FBI search, writing that the “unsealed court records showed agents had seized 11 sets of classified documents, among other things. Republicans’ howls of protest became somewhat more muted, and people around Trump said his buoyant mood at times turned dark.” 

  • “People familiar with those initial conversations said Trump was hesitant to return the documents, dragging his feet for months as officials grew peeved and eventually threatened to alert Congress or the Justice Department to his reticence,” Josh, Roz, Jackie and Devlin write.

As the Wall Street Journal's Rebecca Ballhaus, Vivian Salama and Alex Leary reported, “The National Archives staff typically collects boxes of records throughout the length of an administration, sending its vans to the White House for materials that are marked and catalogued as they come in. That didn’t happen during the Trump years, said Gary Stern, a career Archives official, at a January 2021 panel organized by the American Historical Association.” 

  • The Journal also reports that “The FBI’s search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property dealt with the Justice Department’s most urgent priority in the monthslong showdown, according to officials, which was retrieving classified information.”

Meanwhile, the New York Times's Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush reported that an attorney for Trump signed a statement in June that all of the classified materials sought by the National Archives had been returned.

The specter of violence: Death threats and calls for violence against the FBI have surged following the Mar-a-Lago search. Former CIA and FBI official Philip Mudd told CNN’s Jim Acosta Sunday that the fallout from the search reminds him of the run-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. “People with AR-15s and camo are gonna say: ‘I’m gonna do something about it.’ That’s dangerous. I think we’re gonna see another catastrophic event,” Mudd said.

A joint warning: “The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security issued a joint intelligence bulletin warning of ‘violent threats’ against federal law enforcement, courts, government personnel and facilities in the wake of the Mar-a-Lago seizure,” our colleague Anna Phillips reports. The threats – which have been posted on social media sites, web forums, video-sharing platforms and other message boards – include general calls for “civil war” and “armed rebellion.”

FBI threats spike in the wake of Mar-a-Lago search

“The FBI also warned that it has seen personal identifying information of possible targets of violence, such as home addresses, as well as identification of family members as additional targets,” per NBC News’s Jonathan Dienst, Kelly O’Donnell and Mirna Alsharif.

  • “The biography and contact information of the federal magistrate judge who signed the search warrant was wiped from a Florida court’s website after he too became the target of violent threats,” AZFamily reports.
  • And on Friday, conservative media outlet Breitbart published a leaked version of the warrant that contained the names of the FBI agents who participated in the search.

“The FBI has repeatedly said that extremist violence from right-wing actors is one of the biggest threats confronting the bureau,” the New York Times’s Alan Feuer writes.

  • GOP members pushed back against their colleagues’ criticism of the FBI Sunday and warned them to tone down their rhetoric, Phillips writes. “It’s dangerous because we saw the one incident already,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said, referring to the gunman who was killed last week after he tried to attack an FBI field office in Cincinnati.
  • Not just Cincinnati: An armed group of Trump supporters gathered outside the FBI’s Phoenix office on Saturday to protest what they call an “illegal” search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, per AZFamily. Some carried signs that said “Honor your oath” and “Abolish FBI.” Trump supporters also held rallies in Florida, Missouri and New Jersey over the weekend.

On the Hill

More lawmakers head to Taiwan

Just weeks after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a group of lawmakers landed in Taiwan with much fanfare and controversy, another group of lawmakers traveled to the country this weekend as China continues to engage in more aggressive behavior, including on Sunday

Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) met up in Taiwan with Reps. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.), co-leaders of the congressional Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group, as well as Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) and Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen, a Republican who is America Samoa's non-voting delegate to Congress.

The group met with Alexander Tah-ray Yui, Taiwan's vice minister of foreign affairs, to “encourage stability and peace across the Taiwan Strait,” according to Markey's office. “The group will meet with elected leaders and members of the private sector to discuss shared interests including reducing tensions in the Taiwan Strait and expanding economic cooperation, including investments in semiconductors.”

What we're watching

We are watching if a motive is released of the man who rammed his car into a barricade at the U.S. Capitol early Sunday morning. No one was injured but the scene, according to Capitol Police, was ugly. After the crash, the man exited his car and it was immediately engulfed in flames. He fired gun shots into the air before taking his own life. 

Police said the man, identified as 29-year-old Richard A. York III, of Delaware, did not appear to be targeting members of Congress, who are on recess," our colleagues Fredrick Kunkle and Lizzie Johnson report.

In April of 2021, a man killed one police officer when he ran his car into a Capitol barricade. 

The Media

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💡Did you know? While in prison, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), an avowed Elvis Presley fan, formed a band called the Jailhouse Rockers. The band is named after Presley’s hit song.

Thanks for reading. You can also follow us on Twitter: @theodoricmeyer and @LACaldwellDC.

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