WASHINGTON — A day after warning Russia via Twitter of an imminent U.S. missile attack on Syria, President Donald Trump on Thursday walked back his missive, saying a response could “be very soon or not so soon at all!”
“Never said when an attack on Syria would take place,” Trump tweeted. “Could be very soon or not so soon at all! In any event, the United States, under my Administration, has done a great job of ridding the region of ISIS. Where is our ‘Thank you America?’ ”
On Wednesday, the president had a more direct declaration of how the United States and its allies would respond to a reported chemical weapons attacks in Syria that killed more than 40 people — tweeting that “nice and new and ‘smart’ ” missiles “will be coming.”
Russia, a key ally of Syrian leader Bashar Assad, has said it found no evidence that a chemical weapons attack occurred Saturday and has blamed Syrian rebels for the attack. Russian officials have warned the United States and its allies against a military strike, saying, “Missiles will be downed.”
The United States and allies including France and Britain have been pushing for access to the Douma neighborhood, where photos and videos show dozens of dead victims and hundreds of children and adults seeking medical treatment from a reported gas attack. So far, Syria has blocked passage to the area to international observers, allowing only Russia access to the site.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that the president and his national security advisers met Thursday afternoon, but “no final decision has been made” regarding Syria.
“We are continuing to assess intelligence and are engaged in conversations with our partners and allies,” Sanders said.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, appearing before the House Armed Services Committee, also sought to walk back Trump’s warnings of an imminent strike, saying the United States was still committed to ending the conflict in Syria “through the Geneva process” outlined by the United Nations.
“We are trying to stop the murder of innocent people. But on a strategic level, it’s how do we keep this from escalating out of control — if you get my drift on that,” Mattis said.
Trump’s tweets announcing a forthcoming missile strike stood in contrast to his comments on the presidential campaign trail, when he often railed against former President Barack Obama for telegraphing the country’s military moves.
“We must as a nation be more unpredictable,” Trump said at a 2016 campaign event. “We are totally predictable. We tell everything.”
Trump also took to Twitter Thursday morning to push back against a New York Times report indicating he floated the idea of shutting down special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe in December.
“If I wanted to fire Robert Mueller in December, as reported by the Failing New York Times, I would have fired him. Just more Fake News from a biased newspaper!” Trump tweeted.
The president has dismissed as “fake news” any media reports detailing his intent to oust certain administration officials — including former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster — only to follow through weeks later on the plans initially spelled out in news reports.
Later in the day, Trump tweeted that he has confidence in his legal team’s handling of the Russia probe so far.
“I have agreed with the historically cooperative, disciplined approach that we have engaged in with Robert Mueller (Unlike the Clintons!),” Trump wrote. “I have full confidence in Ty Cobb, my Special Counsel, and have been fully advised throughout each phase of this process.”