Top Dems demand answers from Trump over legality of Syria strikes

Top Dems demand answers from Trump over legality of Syria strikes
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A pair of top-ranking Democratic lawmakers are demanding President TrumpDonald TrumpOmar, Muslim Democrats decry Islamophobia amid death threats On The Money — Powell pivots as inflation rises Trump cheers CNN's Cuomo suspension MORE provide Congress with the legal justification he used to carry out the strikes last week on three Syrian chemical weapons facilities.

Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) and House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffJan. 6 panel releases contempt report on Trump DOJ official ahead of censure vote The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden to update Americans on omicron; Congress back Sunday shows - Spotlight shifts to omicron variant MORE (Calif.) sent a letter to Trump Thursday requesting he detail the legal basis for the April 13 strikes.

Trump provided a letter to Congress on Sunday that stated he ordered the strikes under Article II, the president’s constitutional authority to use military force to protect the national interest from immediate threats.

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“This is not sufficient information for the American public to understand what limits, if any, you and your Administration believes constrains you as the President from taking military action anywhere in the world for any purpose,” Schiff and Kaine wrote.

The United States, United Kingdom and France last week jointly launched 105 missiles at three targets related to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons program.

The strike was in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack launched by the Assad government that killed dozens of civilians in Douma, a suburb of the capital, Damascus.

The lawmakers "share your outrage and disgust at the horrific use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime," Kaine and Schiff wrote, but they said Trump needed to come to Congress to get approval for the strikes as the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war.

Schiff and Kaine’s letter mirrors a similar request sent in 2017, asking Trump to explain the legal basis for the strike against Syria’s Shayrat airbase on April 6, 2017. The lawmakers never received a response to that letter, they say.

“To date, we have not received a reply, nor has the Administration provided a full legal justification for strikes under domestic and international law to the Congress or the American people,” the lawmakers wrote.

Schiff and Kaine also urged Trump to release a memo created by his administration that lays out the legality of the 2017 Syrian airbase strike.

“We are highly dismayed that despite our repeated requests, the Administration has refused to make it available to Congress,” the two wrote, referring to the memo.

“This lengthy, largely unclassified memo and any additional legal analysis underpinning the 2018 strikes must be provided to Congress immediately. It is unacceptable that the Administration has withheld its legal opinions, especially if these justifications become precedent for additional unilateral military action against other nations without Congress’s approval,” they wrote.

Directly following the most recent strikes, Kaine — a member of the Senate Armed Services and Senate Foreign Relations committees — called the move “illegal” and “reckless.”

Earlier this week he emerged from a Senate briefing on the strikes questioning Trump’s legal authority to carry it out.

“I don’t think the Article II justifies them,” Kaine said after Defense Secretary James Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford separately briefed the House and Senate on the air strikes.

Schiff, meanwhile, told reporters “it’s very dangerous to establish and continue a precedent where the president can basically make war and Congress is no longer a relevant decision maker or check on the executive [branch].”