Trump administration accuses international court of corruption at 'highest levels,' authorizes sanctions

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE on Thursday signed an executive order sanctioning officials with the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigating alleged war crimes by U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

The order puts broad restrictions on any individual, and possibly their families, believed to be involved with efforts to investigate, detain or prosecute Americans for war crimes.

“Despite repeated calls by the United States and our allies to reform, the International Criminal Court has taken no action to reform itself and continues to pursue politically-motivated investigations against us and our allies, including Israel,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.


“We are concerned that adversary nations are manipulating the International Criminal Court by encouraging these allegations against United States personnel,” she continued, alleging “corruption” at the highest levels.

The court, which sits in the Hague, is designed to investigate issues like war crimes and genocide, but its jurisdiction is limited to countries that have signed on to the Rome Statute. The U.S. has not. The United Nations Security Council can also refer cases to the ICC, but the U.S. has veto power and would likely block any such attempts. 

The tribunal has long come under fire from the Trump administration, with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Air Force general officially becomes first African American service chief | Senators introduce bill to block Trump armed drone sale measure | State Department's special envoy for Iran is departing the Trump administration State Department offers M reward for foreign election interference information State Department's special envoy for Iran is departing the Trump administration MORE attacking it as a “nakedly political body,” and imposing visa restrictions on the court’s chief prosecutor and investigators involved with the Afghanistan probe.

Top administration officials hammered the international judicial body during a press conference Thursday featuring Pompeo, Attorney General Bill Barr, Secretary of Defense Mark EsperMark EsperPentagon sends 3 cargo planes to Lebanon filled with aid as questions on blast remain Overnight Defense: Esper says 'most believe' Beirut explosion was accident, contradicting Trump | Trump later says 'nobody knows yet' what happened in Lebanon | 61-year-old reservist ID'd as fourth military COVID-19 death Trump tempers his description of Beirut explosion as an attack: 'Nobody knows yet' MORE and National Secretary Advisor Robert O’Brien.

“It wasn’t a prosecution of justice, it was a persecution of Americans,” Pompeo said of the ICC’s 2017 intent to investigate U.S. soldiers for war crimes, calling it a “kangaroo court.”


Esper, meanwhile, called for the ICC to turn over any information related to alleged misconduct by American soldiers to U.S. authorities.

“We can take the appropriate action, as we have consistently done so in the past,” he said.

And O’Brien accused U.S. adversaries of “manipulating the ICC by encouraging these allegations,” while Barr specifically alleged that Russia in particular is manipulating the ICC to push their own agenda.

The attorney general went even further, accusing the international judicial body of having “a long history of financial corruption and malfeasance at the highest levels of the office of the prosecutor,” of which he said the Department of Justice had received “credible information.”

Barr, however, did not offer details publicly to support such allegations.


He did say the president’s executive order came in response to multiple matters in the past and more recently, but did not go into specifics as to why the administration has sought to take such actions now.

The March 2019 visa restrictions allowed for ICC officials entry to New York to attend meetings at the United Nations, a State Department official told Reuters at the time. It’s unclear if the Trump administration will provide such exceptions in the future, or if such exceptions are necessary, given a drawdown in international travel amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Pompeo said on Thursday that the actions against ICC officials will be made on a case by case basis.

--This report was updated at 11:08 a.m.