04.19.18

Schiff, Kaine Send Letter to President Asking for Legal Basis of Syria Strikes in 2017 and 2018

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, sent a letter to President Trump requesting he detail the legal basis for the U.S. military strikes on April 13, 2018 against the Syrian regime's chemical weapons facilities.  This letter follows up on their request in 2017 asking the President to detail the legal basis for the strike against Syria’s Shayrat airbase on April 6, 2017, to which they never received a response. Schiff and Kaine urged Trump to release his Administration’s secret memo detailing the legal justification for last year’s strikes, which has not been provided to Congress or the public, and may serve as precedent for additional unilateral military action against other nations without Congress’s approval.

In their letter, Schiff and Kaine write: “The legality of military action is not a secondary consideration – it is a central question of vital importance under our Constitution and our system of checks and balances. The letter you provided Congress on April 15, 2018 under the War Powers Resolution states that you took this action under your Article II authority as Commander in Chief, similar to the limited public justification you provided in 2017. This is not sufficient information for the American public to understand what limits, if any, you and your Administration believes constrains you as the President from taking military action anywhere in the world for any purpose ‘to defend important U.S. national interests.’”

The full letter is below:

Dear Mr. President:

One year ago, we wrote to you to request that you provide the Congress and the American people with the legal basis for the strikes you ordered on April 6, 2017 against the Shayrat airbase in Syria. To date, we have not received a reply, nor has the Administration provided a full legal justification for strikes under domestic and international law to the Congress or the American people.

This issue has taken on a heightened urgency following the additional round of missile strikes you ordered on April 13, 2018 against targets associated with chemical weapons production in Syria. As we stated in our 2017 letter, we share your outrage and disgust at the horrific use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, with support from their Iranian and Russian sponsors.

However, the legality of military action is not a secondary consideration – it is a central question of vital importance under our Constitution and our system of checks and balances. The letter you provided Congress on April 15, 2018 under the War Powers Resolution states that you took this action under your Article II authority as Commander in Chief, similar to the limited public justification you provided in 2017. This is not sufficient information for the American public to understand what limits, if any, you and your Administration believes constrains you as the President from taking military action anywhere in the world for any purpose “to defend important U.S. national interests.”

Accordingly, we reiterate that your Administration must provide a legal basis for both the 2017 and 2018 strikes. We know through ongoing litigation under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by an outside group, that a memo detailing this analysis already exists and we are highly dismayed that despite our repeated requests, the Administration has refused to make it available to Congress. This lengthy, largely unclassified memo and any additional legal analysis underpinning the 2018 strikes must be provided to Congress immediately. It is unacceptable that the Administration has withheld its legal opinions, especially if these justifications become precedent for additional unilateral military action against other nations without Congress’s approval.   

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.

Sincerely,

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