Rep. Greg Meeks talks Afghanistan and his Taiwan visit

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Good morning, Early Birds. We regret to inform you that you’ve missed your chance to ask Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) anything (unless he’s going!). Tips: earlytips@washpost.com. Thanks for waking up with us.

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In today’s edition … The Post’s Colby Itkowitz on the bitter primary season in New York where Democrats are clashing over the party’s identity … In The Post’s latest story on the lead up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Greg Miller and Catherine Belton report that Russia’s spies misread Ukraine and misled the Kremlin as war loomed … Allen Weisselberg pleads guilty and a Florida judge signals he’s willing to unseal some of the Mar-a-Lago affidavit… but first …

Rep. Greg Meeks: “You can’t just kowtow” to China

Nine questions for … Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.): We spoke with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee about his recent trip to Taiwan with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Republicans’ new report on the Biden administration’s failings in Afghanistan and whether the committee will hold more hearings on what went wrong during the Afghan evacuation.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

The Early: What did you think of China’s response to your visit to Taiwan? Was it more or less severe than you expected it to be?

Meeks: I think it was predictable. Clearly it was unprecedented. But I believe these are things that [China] had planned out previously, so I was not terribly surprised. It just shows their aggressive nature in trying to change the status of Taiwan.

The Early: Susan Shirk, a former senior State Department official in the Clinton administration, told the New York Times before your trip, “Better to postpone rather than risk war.” Two weeks later, war hasn’t broken out. Do you think the warnings of the risks of your visit were overblown?

Meeks: Yeah. We’re not going to allow Beijing and [Chinese President] Xi [Jinping] to tell members of Congress what to do, who could visit, when [they can] and cannot visit. I’ve visited Taiwan previously several times. You just can’t kowtow and bow down, changing what we do because of Beijing’s decision to be more aggressive.

The Early: Nearly a year after the United States pulled out of Afghanistan, tens of thousands of Afghans who worked with U.S. forces and their families remain in Afghanistan or other countries waiting to come to the United States, including more than 74,000 waiting for special immigrant visas. What can Congress do to speed up the process?

Meeks: We’re looking at the Afghan Adjustment Act. [The bipartisan bill would help] some of the Afghans that are already in the United States [become permanent residents], and also possibly expanding the scope of who can be considered for the special immigrant visas. And of course, taking human rights and security vetting into account. We may need to speed up that process.

The Early: Do you think it can pass this year?

Meeks: Yeah, I think so. This is something that is not a partisan issue. We just got to work out some of the details.

The Early: What do you make of the report on the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan issued this week by Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee?

Meeks: It’s a political report that does not take into consideration all of the factors that led up to the 20 days [before the United States pulled out]. You can’t consider what took place in Afghanistan without also looking at the Doha agreement [that the Trump administration signed with the Taliban in 2020]. There’s things that could [have been] done better. And that’s what we need to look at now, to examine. But I don’t know of any scenario where there would have been a pull out that is completely, 100 percent not a messy situation.

The Early: Did you have any discussions with Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, about conducting a bipartisan investigation into the Afghanistan withdrawal? Why didn’t that happen?

Meeks: Within the last 12 months, we’ve had almost 14 briefings, classified meetings, hearings, oftentimes calling in the administration to get whatever information we need so that [committee] members would be clear on what was going on in Afghanistan. I still welcome working collectively in a bipartisan way on a review of what took place. What went right, what went wrong through the Bush, the Obama, the Trump and the Biden administrations.

The Early: The committee held two public hearings last year on the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Republicans’ report called for “a robust schedule of open hearings with senior Biden administration officials who were responsible for the withdrawal.” Are you planning any further hearings on what went wrong in Afghanistan?

Meeks: We will probably have some additional hearings. We need to see. I know the State Department is about to release their report. We’re looking at the prior nonpartisan report that came out just before the withdrawal. The committee will be looking at all of those things.

The Early: Do you anticipate more public hearings on Afghanistan before the end of the year?

Meeks: I haven’t set the agenda for the end of the year. I know that it’s not going to happen in September. We’ve got October recess before the election. There’s only so many days in which to do it. I can’t commit to say that it’s going to happen. I won’t say that it won’t happen.

The Early: What do you think a Republican investigation of the Afghanistan withdrawal might look like next year if they retake the House?

Meeks: Well, they’re not gonna retake the House, No. 1. We know what happened beforehand. We know that when [Republicans] had the majority, and Trump was the president, that [former Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo refused to talk to the committee at all. We know that we didn’t get any information in that regard. So we’re doing much better with us in the majority.

Democrats clash over identity in bitter New York primary season

To the bitter end: Reps. Jerry Nadler, 75, and Carolyn B. Maloney, 76, “are competing in a bitter primary culminating Tuesday that has pit two titans of the House Democratic Caucus, who both arrived in Congress in the early 1990s and have represented adjoining districts for three decades, against each other, ensuring that in the end at least one will lose their job,” our colleague Colby Itkowitz writes. “They’re both fending off [Suraj Patel, 38], who is waging an insurgent campaign to unseat them both. The winner will be heavily favored in November in this left-leaning stretch of the nation’s most populous city.”

  • “The campaign has become as much about the candidates’ different identities as their policies, which largely align.”
  • “Nadler, who could be the only Jewish member of the New York’s U.S. House delegation, hopes that matters in a city with the largest Jewish population in the United States.”
  • “Maloney, who has broken gender barriers, is emphasizing that she is a woman, and hopes the passions around abortion rights and women’s rights drives voters to her side.”
  • “And Patel, a millennial and son of Indian immigrants, hopes voters frustrated with the status quo will choose diversity and change.”

Russia’s errors played crucial role in failed war plans in Ukraine

Failure to launch: In the next installment examining the military campaign in Ukraine, our colleagues Greg Miller and Catherine Belton use communications between those in Russia’s Federal Security Service (obtained by Ukrainian and other security services and reviewed by The Washington Post) to tell us how Russian spies misread Ukraine and misled the Kremlin. Below is an excerpt:

“In the final days before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s security service began sending cryptic instructions to informants in Kyiv. Pack up and get out of the capital, the Kremlin collaborators were told, but leave behind the keys to your homes.”

  • “The directions came from senior officers in a unit of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) with a prosaic name — the Department of Operational Information — but an ominous assignment: ensure the decapitation of the Ukrainian government and oversee the installation of a pro-Russian regime.”
  • “The messages were a measure of the confidence in that audacious plan. So certain were FSB operatives that they would soon control the levers of power in Kyiv, according to Ukrainian and Western security officials, that they spent the waning days before the war arranging safe houses or accommodations in informants’ apartments and other locations for the planned influx of personnel.”
  • “And yet, the agency failed to incapacitate Ukraine’s government, foment any semblance of a pro-Russian groundswell or interrupt President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hold on power. Its analysts either did not fathom how forcefully Ukraine would respond, Ukrainian and Western officials said, or did understand but couldn’t or wouldn’t convey such sober assessments to Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

Allen Weisselberg pleads guilty, Florida judge signals he’s willing to unseal some of the Mar-a-Lago affidavit

Former president Donald Trump and his allies are the subject of multiple investigations — into Trump’s business practices and his conduct leading up to Jan. 6, 2021 — that could spell legal peril for Trumpworld. Thursday’s hearings in New York and Florida underscored this: 

In New York, former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg pleaded guilty to a tax fraud scheme that lasted 15 years and included more than a dozen felonies, including criminal tax fraud and grand larceny, our colleagues Sheila McClear and Mark Berman report. Weisselberg will spend five months in jail and then five years on probation. 

  • “Appearing in a Manhattan courtroom, Weisselberg, 75, acknowledged his part in the scenario outlined by prosecutors — and agreed to testify, if called, at a pending trial for the company.”

Later Thursday afternoon in South Florida, Federal Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhart said he is “inclined” to unseal some of the affidavit that led to last week’s FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. 

  • Reinhart ordered the Justice Department to “redact the document in a way that would not undermine its ongoing investigation if made public” and said he would make a final decision after next Thursday, “when Justice Department officials are expected to submit their proposed redactions,” per our colleagues Josh Dawsey and Perry Stein.

Marin Sanna and Eric Adams walk into a bar … who starts dancing on tables first?

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


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