Trump hits back at Graham over Syria criticism

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Official testifies that Bolton had 'one-on-one meeting' with Trump over Ukraine aid Louisiana governor wins re-election MORE on Wednesday fired back at close ally Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens MORE (R-S.C.) over Graham's criticism of Trump's withdrawal from Syria, arguing the senator should focus on investigating the 2016 election instead of the Middle East.

"Lindsey Graham would like to stay in the Middle East for the next thousand years with thousands of soldiers and fighting other people's wars. I want to get out of the Middle East," Trump said at a joint press conference with the Italian president.

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Trump said Graham should focus on his role as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee investigating allegations of corruption during the 2016 election involving Obama administration officials. The president suggested he look into former President Obama, former CIA Director James Brennan, former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyChris Wallace on Yovanovitch testimony: 'If you're not moved, you don't have a pulse' Day one impeachment hearings draw 13.1M viewers, down 32 percent from Comey hearings There are poor ideas, bad ones and Facebook's Libra MORE and others, alleging without evidence that they acted corruptly in the lead-up to his electoral victory.

"That’s what Lindsey ought to focus on," Trump said. "That's what the people of South Carolina want him to focus on."

"The people of South Carolina don't want us to get into a war with Turkey, a NATO member, over Syria," Trump added. "Let them fight their own wars."

The senator dug in upon hearing of Trump's criticism, tweeting that he will "NEVER be quiet" on matters of national security.

"The worst thing any Commander in Chief can do is to give land back to the enemy that was taken through blood and sacrifice," Graham tweeted. "I fear those are the consequences of the actions being taken right now." 

When it comes to America's national security I will NEVER be quiet.

— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 16, 2019

Graham, typically a staunch Trump defender, has been at odds with the president ever since the White House announced earlier this month that it was pulling U.S. troops out of northern Syria.

The decision has led to bloodshed and uncertainty in the region as Turkey launched an offensive into northern Syria within days of the announcement from the White House.

Lawmakers have hammered the Trump administration for its decision, accusing it of abandoning its Kurdish allies who helped fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and warning that the move could lead to the terror group's resurgence.

Speaking in the Oval Office earlier Wednesday, Trump insisted that the conflict playing out in Syria "has nothing to do with us," and he downplayed the value of the Kurdish alliance, telling reporters that the Kurds are "no angels."

The remarks drew a rebuke from Graham, who raised concerns that Trump's shift in strategy could be worse than former President Obama's decision to leave Iraq.

"I worry we will not have allies in the future against radical Islam, ISIS will reemerge, & Iran’s rise in Syria will become a nightmare for Israel," Graham tweeted. "I fear this is a complete and utter national security disaster in the making and I hope President Trump will adjust his thinking."

The rift between Trump and Graham and urged him to agree to a ceasefire came just as the two appeared to be finding common ground on the response to Turkey.

Trump on Monday announced new sanctions on Ankara over its incursion into northern Syria. Graham joined Trump at the White House when the president called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and urged him to agree to a ceasefire.

Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceREAD: Foreign service officer Jennifer Williams' closed-door testimony from the House impeachment inquiry Top NSC aide puts Sondland at front lines of Ukraine campaign, speaking for Trump White House releases rough transcript of early Trump-Ukraine call minutes before impeachment hearing MORE and Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoFive takeaways from ex-ambassador's dramatic testimony Pompeo: No US response ruled out in Hong Kong Ousted ambassador describes State Department in 'crisis' in dramatic impeachment testimony MORE are set to depart later Wednesday to meet with Turkish officials, including Erdoğan, to try and broker an end to the violence. But Trump's insistence that he will not reconsider taking troops out of northern Syria and his repeated assertions that the conflict there should be left for others to deal with threatens to undercut the delegation's negotiating position, something Graham himself noted.

During Wednesday's press conference, Trump stood silently as Italian President Sergio Mattarella said through an interpreter that Italy is "deeply concerned with Turkey's offensive."