Trump expands his authority to sanction Turkey amid Syria offensive

Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinCommerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Bezos phone breach raises fears over Saudi hacking | Amazon seeks to halt Microsoft's work on 'war cloud' | Lawmakers unveil surveillance reform bill On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Mnuchin says officials working on new tax cuts | Watchdog charges former execs over Wells Fargo accounts scandal | Study questions Biden, Sanders tax plan claims MORE on Friday announced that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group 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 EsperOvernight Defense: Veterans group seeks Trump apology for comments on brain injuries | Pentagon says dozens of troops suffered traumatic injuries after attack | Trump unveils Space Force logo Commerce Department withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon pushback: reports  Dozens of US troops suffered traumatic brain injuries after Iran missile strikes 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 CheneyThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Cheney's decision not to run for Senate sparks Speaker chatter Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Apple reportedly dropped plans to let iPhone users encrypt backups | Justices decline facial recognition case | Critics fear Facebook losing misinformation fight | Truce on French tech tax MORE (R-Wyo.) plans to introduce sanctions legislation in the coming days, and Sens. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Schiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment MORE (R-S.C.) and Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenFox's Napolitano: There is 'ample and uncontradicted' evidence supporting Trump's removal from office Sen. Van Hollen releases documents from GAO investigation Democrats shoot down talk of Bolton, Hunter Biden witness swap 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.