Senators leave classified briefing on Trump's Syria policy 'very unnerved'

Lawmakers emerged from a classified administration briefing on Tuesday expressing concern about administration policy...

Posted: Apr 18, 2018 4:51 PM
Updated: Apr 18, 2018 4:51 PM

Lawmakers emerged from a classified administration briefing on Tuesday expressing concern about administration policy on Syria and the legal justification for last week's military strikes against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

"I am very unnerved by what I'm hearing and seeing," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, who said the briefing on the strikes from, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford, made him more worried, not less. The administration is "going down a dangerous path" with regards to Syria, he said, without offering details.

Graham told reporters that the administration has no military strategy to counter Iranian and Russian influence and seems wiling "to give Syria to Assad, Russia, and Iran."

"I think Assad, after this strike, believes we're all tweet and no action," Graham said.

Washington, along with London and Paris, launched airstrikes in the wee hours of Syria's Saturday morning in response for an April 7 attack on the rebel stronghold of Douma that killed about 75 people, including children, and left another 500 in need of treatment for symptoms consistent with chemical weapons exposure.

The strike came just 10 days after President Donald Trump had said he wanted to get out of Syria, raising confusion about administration policy.

"I want to get out," Trump said during an April 3 news conference. "I want to bring our troops back home. It's time."

But on April 13, when he announced the strikes, Trump said the US would be undertaking a sustained diplomatic, military and economic response to stop the use of chemical weapons, and officials said the US would remain focused on defeating ISIS.

Senators leaving Tuesday's briefing seemed to indicate that Trump's isolationist impulses are going to win out, regardless of the consequences for US global influence, American national security interests or the fate of the region, where Iran is vying for larger influence and Russia has established itself as a power broker, edging out the US.

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware left the meeting and told reporters, "The only thing worse than a bad plan on Syria is no plan on Syria, and the President and his administration have failed to deliver a coherent plan on the path forward."

"I think it's important for us to remain engaged in Syria and to pursue a diplomatic resolution," Coons said. "If we completely withdraw, our leverage in any diplomatic resolution or reconstruction or any hope for a post-Assad Syria goes away."

Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who has sparred with Trump over foreign policy issues, told reporters, "I think the administration's plans are to complete the efforts against ISIS and (then) not be involved."

Corker went on to say that, "Syria is Russia and Iran's now. They will be determining the future. We may be at the table, but when you're just talking and have nothing to do with shaping what's happening on the ground, you're just talking."

Asked if he felt the administration should do more militarily to shape events on the ground, Corker said, "They're not going to. I understand it's not going to happen. It's just not going to happen. To do so would take a significant effort by our military and I just don't think that's where the American people are right now."

The administration briefed senators as the UN Security Council held its own meeting on the situation in Syria. The strikes on Douma have ratcheted up tensions between the US, its allies and Russia. When Moscow's ambassador accused the US of striking a sovereign country, Kelly Currie, the acting deputy representative of the US, shot back -- accusing Russia of distracting from the atrocities committed by the Assad regime.

While the US went after ISIS and "actually achieved lasting gains for the Syrian people, the Assad regime was busy bombarding civilians in places like Aleppo, Idlib and Eastern Ghouta," Currie said.

"The United States will not stop focusing on the ways to achieve that goal, no matter how many times our Russian colleagues convene these cynical thinly disguised diversions," Currie said.

Coons declined to offer details of the classified meeting, which was open to all senators. But House lawmakers emerging from their own all-members briefing in a secure facility in the Capitol building said administration officials focused on their legal justifications for launching the airstrikes, and for the targets.

There was little discussion about a broader strategy for addressing the Syrian regime, or additional military or diplomatic efforts, they said.

"We certainly did get additional insights into the targeting of the facilities, what we knew about it, what we know about the attack itself, what these facilities were used for, what actions if any took place between the time the President announced we were going to strike and when we did strike, so we got an additional granularity," said California Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff.

Trump Administration officials briefing the lawmakers restated their argument that Article 2 of the Constitution, which makes the president commander of the armed forces. But many lawmakers feel the President needs congressional approval and used the hearing to argue for passage of a new Authorization of Military Force.

Rep. John Garamendi, a California Democrat, argued that Article 2 is too broad, and he was concerned it could be used for additional action in other regions, saying to reporters, "that justification allows the President to wage war anywhere, anytime, anyplace he might want to, by simply saying it's in the national security interests."

Defense Secretary James Mattis, at the Pentagon Tuesday to welcome the defense minister of Albania, said the US and its allies did "what we believed is right" to deter the use of chemical weapons.

"I hope this time the Assad regime got the message," Mattis said.

Washington and its allies say they have clear evidence showing Syria is responsible for the attack and they have blamed Russia for being complicit. Moscow, meanwhile, has said that the devastation in Douma was faked by foreign intelligence agencies looking for a rationale to attack Syria.

On Tuesday, Russian state media reported that Russian military had discovered a chemical laboratory and warehouse in Douma that they claimed belonged to "militants."

Russian and Syrian control of the site has raised concerns, and on Tuesday, the French foreign ministry said it is "very likely" that evidence could "disappear" from the site of the alleged attack as OPCW inspectors still have not made it to the site.

"To date, Russia and Syria still refuse access to the site of the attack even though the investigators arrived in Syria on April 14," the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has denied that the Douma site had been tampered with, while a representative of Russia's military said on Monday that the OPCW inspectors will reach Douma on Wednesday.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Sen. Lindsey Graham's name and reflect that Rep. John Garamendi is a Democrat.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 250869

Reported Deaths: 5481
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto16841171
Hinds15890312
Harrison13037191
Rankin10439205
Jackson10128177
Lee8721135
Madison8071160
Jones6166108
Forrest5870117
Lauderdale5724177
Lowndes5238109
Lafayette486192
Lamar475363
Washington4734122
Bolivar3941106
Oktibbeha388179
Panola360475
Pontotoc358752
Monroe3487103
Warren337895
Union337457
Marshall336065
Neshoba3325150
Pearl River319492
Leflore2980104
Lincoln293385
Sunflower277569
Tate266659
Alcorn260651
Itawamba258858
Pike258176
Hancock253557
Prentiss242450
Scott241043
Yazoo237754
Copiah237449
Tippah236246
Simpson232367
Leake227864
Coahoma223154
Grenada215770
Covington208871
Marion206171
Adams201666
Winston198061
George197438
Wayne196130
Attala191658
Newton186542
Chickasaw181243
Tishomingo179659
Holmes167867
Jasper165134
Clay156732
Stone140218
Tallahatchie138234
Clarke136460
Calhoun133321
Smith118823
Yalobusha113834
Walthall111136
Noxubee109622
Greene108929
Montgomery108134
Carroll103721
Lawrence101217
Perry99131
Amite96425
Webster90624
Claiborne85125
Tunica84521
Jefferson Davis83825
Humphreys81524
Benton80323
Kemper75720
Quitman6758
Franklin65315
Choctaw59613
Wilkinson58125
Jefferson53019
Sharkey42417
Issaquena1586
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 417528

Reported Deaths: 6030
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson61313888
Mobile29768542
Madison26637185
Tuscaloosa20580268
Montgomery18696304
Shelby18310113
Baldwin16002179
Lee12261101
Morgan12093112
Etowah11604157
Calhoun10982200
Marshall10108107
Houston8474129
Cullman7960104
Limestone790174
Elmore7723101
DeKalb764697
St. Clair7460120
Lauderdale745183
Talladega6102108
Walker5852174
Jackson574441
Blount526483
Colbert525670
Autauga510355
Coffee434256
Dale391081
Franklin363445
Chilton333565
Covington326167
Russell323810
Escambia312442
Dallas300296
Clarke278233
Chambers277869
Tallapoosa2599107
Pike245829
Marion240549
Lawrence240447
Winston223835
Bibb213047
Geneva197431
Marengo197329
Pickens195231
Hale173742
Barbour171236
Butler167958
Fayette166026
Cherokee159630
Henry151119
Monroe144417
Randolph138535
Washington136526
Clay125246
Crenshaw118044
Lamar116619
Cleburne116023
Macon113335
Lowndes108735
Wilcox101221
Bullock98128
Perry95419
Conecuh92920
Sumter88726
Greene75323
Coosa60414
Choctaw51224
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Mostly Cloudy
37° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 32°
Feels Like: 37°
Columbus
Partly Cloudy
33° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 29°
Oxford
Partly Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 32°
Starkville
Partly Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 30°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather