Watchdog group sues Trump administration over chemical attack warnings

Watchdog group sues Trump administration over chemical attack warnings
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A watchdog group on Wednesday filed suit against the Trump administration in an attempt to reveal whether the White House consulted Pentagon officials before publicly warning of a potential Syrian chemical weapons strike in June that never took place.

Democracy Forward filed a suit in the District of Columbia district court after the Department of Defense (DOD) “refused to reveal” whether such talks happened before then-press secretary Sean Spicer on June 26 warned of an “imminent” chemical weapons strike, according to a Democracy Forward statement.

The White House said at the time it had “identified potential preparations” for the strike, which “would likely result in the mass murder of civilians” if conducted. The strike never took place, but administration officials later credited the White House statement with stopping the supposed attack.

“One military official at U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for directing U.S. military operations in the Middle East, claimed he had ‘no idea’ about the potential for a Syrian chemical attack,” Democracy Forward said in the statement. “Another administration official, a senior policy advisor at the State Department, claimed to have first heard the news from The Associated Press.”

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Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy said that in refusing to reveal whether there was consultation before the June statement, “the Trump Administration is making our government less transparent and our democracy less safe.”

The watchdog group had filed a Freedom of Information Act request in June seeking records from the DOD to uncover whether military officials were consulted, but the Pentagon failed to respond to the request, the group said.

The government of President Bashar Assad, in April, launched a chemical weapons attack against his own people that killed scores of civilians and injured hundreds more.

In response, Trump ordered U.S. warships to launch 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield, the first time the U.S. military directly targeted the Assad regime.

Lawmakers shortly thereafter asked the administration for its legal authority to conduct such a strike.