U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees, sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson requesting that the Trump Administration immediately provide Congress with the existing memo that details the legal basis for the April 6, 2017 U.S. airstrikes in Syria. Kaine has been critical of the Trump Administration for failing to provide Congress with a compelling legal justification for the last ten months, even as additional airstrikes have been launched and the U.S. mission in Syria has expanded beyond the fight against ISIS.

“The fact that there is a lengthy memo with a more detailed legal justification that has not been shared with Congress, or the American public, is unacceptable.   I am also concerned that this legal justification may now become precedent for additional executive unilateral military action, including this week’s U.S. airstrikes in Syria against pro-Assad forces or even an extremely risky ‘bloody nose’ strike against North Korea. I request a copy of this memo to be given to Congress for immediate review,” Kaine wrote.

Kaine and U.S. Representative Adam Schiff initially asked President Trump to provide them with a legal justification for the airstrikes last April. Kaine followed up with a letter in December to Secretaries Mattis and Tillerson requesting information on the goals of the current military mission in Syria, and Kaine has spoken out against the decision to keep U.S. troops there beyond the counter-ISIS mission. Kaine has long been a leading voice on the need for Congress to reclaim its role in authorizing military action to prevent executive overreach.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Feb. 8, 2018

The Honorable Rex Tillerson
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Tillerson:

Recent reports indicate that the State Department has a memo, cleared through the interagency process, detailing the Administration’s legal basis for the April 6, 2017 U.S. strikes against the Shayrat military airbase in Syria.  Since these strikes took place, I have been requesting that the Administration provide Congress with its detailed legal analysis for this action under domestic and international law.  These requests include the letter I wrote to President Trump with Representative Schiff on April 24, 2017, questions for the record submitted to you and Secretary Mattis following your testimony at an October 30, 2017 hearing on Authorizations for Use of Military Force, and exchanges with Legal Adviser Jennifer Newstead during her confirmation process.  

The Administration’s responses, if received at all, have been insufficient.  This includes your response that, “The April 6 U.S. missile strike on Shayrat airfield in Syria was not based on the authority of the statutory authorizations for use of military force that we have been discussing at this hearing.  The President authorized that strike pursuant to his power under Article II of the Constitution as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive to use this sort of military force overseas to defend important U.S. national interests.” This expansive view of the President’s Article II powers – absent an immediate threat to the United States or our personnel abroad – does not justify U.S. military action without the authorization of Congress.

The fact that there is a lengthy memo with a more detailed legal justification that has not been shared with Congress, or the American public, is unacceptable.  I am also concerned that this legal justification may now become precedent for additional executive unilateral military action, including this week’s U.S. airstrikes in Syria against pro-Assad forces or even an extremely risky “bloody nose” strike against North Korea.  I request a copy of this memo be given to Congress for immediate review.  If portions of the memo are classified, a SCIF can be made available. 

Thank you for your attention to this matter. 

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