Sen. Menendez Floats Subpoena for Biden’s Defense Secretary

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news, including politics and court cases. He started at The Epoch Times as a New York City metro reporter.
September 14, 2021 Updated: September 14, 2021

A Democrat senator on Tuesday floated issuing a subpoena for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin after the Biden administration official didn’t show up to a congressional hearing.

Austin was absent for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington, stoking criticism from the top Democrats and Republicans on the panel.

“I’m very disappointed that Secretary Austin declined our request to testify today,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the panel’s chairman, said in his opening remarks.

“A full accounting of the U.S. response to the crisis is not complete without the Pentagon, especially when it comes to understanding the complete collapse of the U.S.-trained and -funded Afghan military. His decision not to appear will affect my personal judgment on Department of Defense nominees. I expect the secretary to avail himself to the committee in the future, and if he should not, I may consider the use of committee subpoena power to compel him and others to testify,” he added.

Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), the committee’s ranking Republican, also noted Austin’s absence.

Risch welcomed Secretary of State Antony Blinken and told him he was “doing the right thing” by answering questions from the panel.

“However, like the chairman, I am disappointed that some of your colleagues declined to testify, particularly Secretary Austin. There’s questions that we really need to have answered and it’s disheartening that they declined to testify,” he said.

John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, told The Epoch Times in an email that Austin had “conflicting commitments” that prevented his appearance before the Senate panel.

“The Secretary thanks Chairman Menendez for his interest in having him appear today and regrets that conflicting commitments made that appearance impracticable. He greatly respects the oversight role of the Congress, and he looks forward to testifying at the end of this month before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees,” Kirby said.

Epoch Times Photo
Committee chairman Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) questions U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Sept. 14, 2021. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Austin and two top U.S. generals are scheduled to testify to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Sept. 28. The House Armed Services Committee does not have any hearings scheduled at present.

Neither Austin nor Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have appeared before Congress since the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Both have defended what unfolded even as members of both parties describe it as a failure.

Menendez on Tuesday said the withdrawal was “clearly and fatally flawed.” Risch portrayed it as “a dismal failure.”

Blinken testified that the withdrawal process was going smoothly until the U.S.-backed Afghan forces failed to hold the country from the Taliban, which triggered the frantic pullout that spanned 17 days and ended with at least 150 Americans being stranded there.

“Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that the government forces in Kabul would collapse while U.S. Forces remained. They were focused on what would happen after the United States withdrew, from September onward. As Gen. Milley has said, nothing I or anyone else saw indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days,” Blinken said.

He dubbed the evacuation “an extraordinary effort” and praised the 13 U.S. troops who died from an ISIS terrorist attack at the U.S.-held airport in Kabul as heroes.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. news, including politics and court cases. He started at The Epoch Times as a New York City metro reporter.