Double-crossing the Kurds?
Reliable allies have been hard to come by in the fight on Middle East ground against ISIS, but the U.S. had one for years with the Kurds of northern Syria and their militias, the Syrian Democratic Forces. Late on Sunday night, a brief White House statement revealed President Donald Trump would abandon them to the mercies of their historic foe, Turkey.
After a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump decided the U.S. wouldn't stand in the way if Turkey carried out a long-threatened invasion. U.S. officials indicated that 100 to 150 American military personnel would be pulled back from the zone Turkey wants to occupy to drive Kurdish fighters away from its border. Just weeks ago, with the U.S. assuring there would be no invasion, defensive barriers designed to protect the Kurds were dismantled.
There was no distance between Republicans and Democrats as denunciations of Trump's move poured in. With few exceptions, Republicans who have shrugged off much about Trump, including the Democrats' case for impeachment, were appalled and said so with a ferocity seldom aimed at their party's leader.
"It's going to lead to ISIS re-emergence," Sen. Lindsey Graham told Fox News. “I hope I’m making myself clear how shortsighted and irresponsible this decision is … I like President Trump. I’ve tried to help him. This, to me, is just unnerving to its core.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said “a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime.” Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) tweeted: "Betrays Kurds, strengthens ISIS and endangers American homeland."
Former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley put the danger facing the Kurds, and the stakes for America's credibility, in the starkest terms: "We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back. The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake," she said.
Trump responded throughout the day Monday with defensiveness and bluster. He said he'd told Turkey not to do "anything outside of what we would think is humane" and tweeted: "If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey."
Trump said he was carrying out a promise to get out of "ridiculous endless wars." He suggested the U.S. had met its obligations to the Kurds, acknowledging they "fought with us" but adding that they “were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so." They also took thousands of casualties.
Pushing Trump's Obama button
Mindful of the president's bitter and unceasing contempt for his predecessor, two of Trump's Senate Republican allies aimed to hit Trump where it hurts, comparing his abandonment of the Kurds in Syria with President Barack Obama's withdrawal from Iraq.
“As we learned the hard way during the Obama Administration, American interests are best served by American leadership, not by retreat or withdrawal,” said McConnell.
"No matter what President Trump is saying about his decision, it is EXACTLY what President Obama did in Iraq with even more disastrous consequences for our national security,” tweeted Graham.
ISIS' get-out-of-jail card?
Trump is upset that the U.S. has had to pay the Kurds to detain thousands of Islamic State fighters captured in recent years. He has tried without success to pressure European states to take those fighters who originated from there. But most are Syrians and Iraqis.
If Turkey invades, the SDF could abandon detention camps to fight the Turks, potentially allowing some 10,000 captured ISIS fighters to escape, The New York Times reported.
A senior administration official said Trump told Erdogan that he would be responsible for securing the prisoners. Trump tweeted: “Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their ‘neighborhood.’ ”
Impeachment train rolling
House Democrats on Monday subpoenaed the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Defense as part of the widening impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez reported.
The House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees have requested documents related to Trump’s order to withhold nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid days before Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Trump told reporters that the White House Counsel’s Office is preparing a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) denying access to all documents requested for the "scam" inquiry.
And early Tuesday, Trump further stepped up his war on Congress by ordering Gordon Sondland, a top ambassador embroiled in the Ukraine scandal, not to appear for a deposition.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported House Democrats are weighing extraordinary steps to protect the identity of the whistleblower whose complaint prompted the inquiry. They include having the whistleblower testify from a remote location and obscuring the individual’s appearance and voice.
The Democrats fear Trump’s congressional allies will seek to expose the individual as the president has demanded, in disregard of whistleblower protection laws.
Janison: Conspiracy weary
With Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr sniffing around for clues to nail the Bidens and pin 2016 election misdeeds on Democrats conspiring with Ukrainians, it's worth looking back at past Trump-inspired investigations that were fool's errands, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
As a private citizen, Trump trumpeted the lie that Obama was born in Kenya. "An 'extremely credible source' has called my office and told me that @BarackObama's birth certificate is a fraud," Trump tweeted in 2012. Seven years later, we still don't know whether Trump made up the source, the tip or both.
He formed an investigative commission to prove his claims of massive illegal voting for Hillary Clinton; it found nothing and disbanded.
Now Trump's gumshoes want to show that the channels created to offer foreign-collected dirt on Clinton to the Trump campaign was a big setup to entrap the then candidate and now president, who still refuses to acknowledge what exhaustive investigations concluded: that it was the Russians.
In the meantime, evidence is emerging that the president's cronies were seeking to make lucrative business deals in Ukraine. Given Team Trump's sleuthing record, they might want to switch to playing defense.
Judge: Trump can't hide taxes
A New York federal judge ruled Monday that the Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance's office can see Trump's tax returns for an investigation into matters that includes the payment of hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and a Playboy centerfold.
Judge Victor Marrero called the Trump lawyers' argument that the Constitution shields sitting presidents from any criminal investigation “repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values.” Presidents, their families and businesses are not above the law, wrote the judge.
On Twitter, Trump begged to differ: "The Radical Left Democrats have failed on all fronts, so now they are pushing local New York City and State Democrat prosecutors to go get President Trump. A thing like this has never happened to any President before. Not even close!"
The president’s lawyers appealed the judge’s ruling to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which put the matter on hold while it considers the case on an expedited basis.
What else is happening:
- Ohio's Rob Portman is the latest GOP senator to say Trump was wrong to ask Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens. He also disputed Trump’s characterization of the Ukrainian prosecutor whose firing Joe Biden sought as an aggressive battler of corruption, according to The Columbus Dispatch. But Portman said impeachment is too extreme.
- Bernie Sanders, recovering from a heart attack, won't appear at a CNN town hall Thursday focused on LGBTQ issues. He still plans to join a Democratic debate Oct. 15.
- Calendar records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show Trump's Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, the wife of McConnell, met with officials from Kentucky, her husband's state, vastly more often than those from any other, Politico reported. In all, 25% of Chao’s scheduled meetings with local officials of any state from January 2017 to March 2018 were with Kentuckians, who make up 1.3% of the U.S. population.
- Contrary to Trump's expressed wish for China to investigate the Bidens, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters the issue hasn't come up in trade talks and won't. “The president’s view is there is no linkage between that and the trade talks," Kudlow said Monday.
- Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Monday denied that he pressed the Ukrainian government to put two U.S. businessmen on the board of the Ukrainian state energy company or that he was planning to leave the Trump administration, Politico reported.
- Protesters shouted down acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan and prevented him from giving a keynote address during an immigration conference at Georgetown University in Washington on Monday.
- CBS Studios is planning a four-hour miniseries based on fired FBI Director James Comey’s bestselling book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership." Jeff Daniels will play Comey, and Brendan Gleeson was cast as Trump.