Trump expands his authority to sanction Turkey amid Syria offensive

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinTop economic adviser warned Trump on reelection chances ahead of China truce: report The Hill's Morning Report - Tempers boil over at the White House Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever MORE on Friday announced that President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi arrives in Jordan with bipartisan congressional delegation Trump says his Doral resort will no longer host G-7 after backlash CNN's Anderson Cooper mocks WH press secretary over Fox News interview MORE will sign an executive order expanding the administration's ability to impose sanctions on Turkish officials as the president faces growing criticism over his decision to pull U.S. forces out of northern Syria.

Mnuchin said that the executive order does not itself contain new sanctions, but gives Trump the authority to enact them.

“The president is concerned about the ongoing military offensive and potential targeting of civilians, civilian infrastructure, ethnic and religious minorities, and the president wants to make very clear that it is imperative that Turkey not allow even a single ISIS fighter to escape,” Mnuchin told reporters at the White House.

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The new powers will allow the Treasury Department to sanction individuals and entities in Ankara involved in human rights abuses or undermining security in northern Syria.

“These are very powerful sanctions. We hope that we don’t have to use them, but we can shut down the Turkish economy if we need to,” Mnuchin told reporters. 

The announcement came a short time after the Pentagon said Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperErdoğan got the best of Trump, experts warn Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump insists Turkey wants cease-fire | Fighting continues in Syrian town | Pentagon chief headed to Mideast | Mattis responds to criticism from Trump NATO ministers need to have difficult conversations to keep everyone honest MORE urged his counterpart in Ankara to halt this week’s offensive into northern Syria following the removal of U.S. troops.

Friday’s announcement appeared to be an effort from the White House to appease Republicans who have hammered the administration over its handling of the situation in Syria and called for a tough response to Turkey’s military movements.

Trump has been steadfast in his commitment to pulling U.S. forces out of the region. He has further inflamed criticism by downplaying concerns that his shift in strategy could lead to a resurgence of ISIS or a slaughter of Kurdish forces.

Trump said in recent days that he would "obliterate" the Turkish economy if Ankara crossed a line, but he had not laid out any specific examples of what he would consider inappropriate. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is scheduled to visit Washington next month.

Lawmakers in both parties and in both chambers of Congress have shown support for imposing sanctions on Turkey in response to its incursion into northern Syria, which threatens the U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in the region.

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyHouse Republicans 'demand the release of the rules' on impeachment Republicans seek to delay effort to censure Schiff after Cummings' death House Foreign Affairs leaders introduce Turkey sanctions bill MORE (R-Wyo.) plans to introduce sanctions legislation in the coming days, and Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamErdoğan got the best of Trump, experts warn Graham: I'm seeking to make Trump successful 'but not at all costs' The Memo: Trump's sea of troubles deepens MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenPelosi, Schumer hit 'flailing' Trump over 'sham ceasefire' deal On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes House Foreign Affairs leaders introduce Turkey sanctions bill MORE (D-Md.) announced a deal this week to roll out a similar measure in the Senate.

Trump has come under intense criticism for his decision to pull U.S. forces out of northern Syria. The move was announced abruptly late Sunday and drew swift rebukes from lawmakers.

By Wednesday, Turkish forces had launched an operation into the area, raising alarms among U.S. officials about the fate of the Kurds.

The U.S. military relied on the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is led by the Kurds, as the local ground force fighting ISIS. But Ankara considers the Syrian Kurds terrorists who are an extension of a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.

Trump has defended his decision amid the backlash, downplaying the U.S. alliance with the Kurds by asserting that they were only assisting in the fight against ISIS to protect their own territory. 

"The Kurds are fighting for their land," Trump told reporters on Wednesday.

"And as somebody wrote in a very, very powerful article today, they didn’t help us in the second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy as an example. They mentioned names of different battles. But they’re there to help us with their land and that’s a different thing," he continued.