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Tulsi Gabbard reveals she met Assad in Syria, without informing top Democrats

Hawaiian congresswoman claims she went on a ‘fact-finding’ mission in support of ‘peace’ for Syrian people, but characterized US-backed rebels as ‘terrorists’

tulsi gabbard
Tulsi Gabbard backed a bill to block Syrian and Iraqi refugees from resettling in the US. She is the first US lawmaker to meet with the Syrian president since the conflict began. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Democrats were silent on Thursday as Tulsi Gabbard, one of the party’s sitting lawmakers in Congress, announced that she had met with Bashar al-Assad during a trip to war-torn Syria and dismissed his entire opposition as “terrorists”.

Gabbard, a Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii, disclosed her meeting with the Syrian president on Wednesday, during what her office called a “fact-finding” mission in the region.

“Initially I hadn’t planned on meeting him,” Gabbard told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “When the opportunity arose to meet with him, I did so, because I felt it’s important that if we profess to truly care about the Syrian people, about their suffering, then we’ve got to be able to meet with anyone that we need to if there is a possibility that we could achieve peace. And that’s exactly what we talked about.”

Democratic leaders were mum on the decision by one of their sitting lawmakers to meet with a dictator whom the US government has dubbed a war criminal for his use of chemical weapons against civilians.

Gabbard’s trip raised alarms over a potential violation of the Logan Act, a federal statute barring unauthorized individuals from conferring with a foreign government involved in a dispute with the US. The US currently has no diplomatic relations with Syria.

Gabbard’s office said her visit was approved by the House ethics committee. A spokesman for the committee declined to comment, although under its rules members have a period of 15 days following the completion of a trip to make public their approval letter and financial disclosures related to privately funded travel.

The offices of Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, did not respond to requests for comment when reached by the Guardian. The White House did not immediately return an email inquiry, nor did a spokeswoman for House speaker Paul Ryan.

Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday that she had no knowledge of Gabbard’s unannounced trip, which drew scrutiny over who arranged and paid for the travel.

“She hasn’t reported or brought anything to our office as far as I know,” Pelosi said at a press conference held before Gabbard’s revelation about her meeting with Assad.

“So when I know more about it, I’ll have something to say about it.”

Adam Kinzinger, a Republican congressman from Illinois, was among few lawmakers to immediately condemn Gabbard’s actions.

“It is sad and a shame and a disgrace,” Kinzinger told reporters at a Republican policy retreat in Philadelphia. “In no way should any member of Congress, should any government official, ever travel to meet with a guy that has killed 500,000 people and 50,000 children.”

Kinzinger called on leadership in both parties to condemn Gabbard’s trip and questioned how it was financed. But Kinzinger – like Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran – said he would need to know more to file an ethics complaint against his colleague.

“She has the audacity to say that everywhere she went people supported Assad,” Kinzinger said. “Of course, when you have an Assad-led tour, he’s only going to take you to places where people like him”.

Evan McMullin, a former independent candidate for president in the 2016 presidential election, asked on Twitter: “Why are so many of our leaders becoming stooges of foreign dictators and war criminals? @TulsiGabbard @realDonaldTrump This is America!”

Senator John McCain, who went to Syria in 2013 to meet opposition groups and was criticized by the Assad regime for doing so, reportedly said Gabbard’s visit “send[s] the wrong signal”.

“It kind of legitimizes a guy who butchered 400,000 of his own people,” the senator from Arizona said.

While Gabbard did not travel in her official capacity as a representative of the American government, she is the first sitting US lawmaker to meet with Assad since the start of the conflict in Syria. She is also a member of the House committee on foreign relations.

The House committee was not made aware of Gabbard’s trip beforehand as it was not official travel, a spokesman for New York congressman Eliot Engel, the ranking Democrat on the panel, told the Guardian.

“Mr Engel’s position on Assad is well established,” the spokesman, Tim Mulvey, said in a statement. “He’s a war criminal and a murderer, he has supported and benefited from terrorism, he has close ties to Russia, and he cannot have a role in Syria’s future.”

A spokesman for Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, declined to comment.

Gabbard’s office claims her trip was funded by the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services (Aaccess) – Ohio; however, the group has not reported any financial revenue to the US government since 2006.

Bassam Khawam, the executive director of Aaccess who traveled with Gabbard, reportedly belongs to a pro-Assad Lebanese political party, the Syrian Social Nationalist party (SSNP). The party has dispatched its members to fight on behalf of the Assad regime during the nearly six-year war.

Gabbard was joined on the trip by former Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich, who has made prior trips to meet Assad that were also funded by Aaccess. Kucinich, who interviewed the Syrian president as a contributor for Fox News in 2013, has also defended Assad’s intentions in Syria.

Gabbard framed her sit-down meeting with Assad as part of a necessary dialogue in order to resolve the Syrian conflict. The war began after a series of pro-democracy protests in March 2011 were swiftly and brutally put down by the Assad regime. The war has since devolved into a brutal and complex war, fuelled by sectarian, political and international divisions.

“Whatever you think of President Assad, the fact is that he is the president of Syria,” Gabbard said. “In order for any possibility of a viable peace agreement to occur, there has to be a conversation with him.”

Gabbard said her trip to the region was born from “the suffering of the Syrian people that has been weighing heavily on my heart.”

But in 2015, she was one of just 47 Democrats who sided with Republicans and backed a GOP-sponsored measure that would essentially block Syrian and Iraqi refugees from resettling in the US. Gabbard was also a vocal critic of the Obama administration – which repeatedly called for Assad to step down – for arming Syrian rebel groups.

In November, Gabbard met with then president-elect Donald Trump to discuss foreign policy. Trump has stated he will end assistance to US-backed Syrian rebels. His son, Donald Trump Jr, met privately with pro-Russia diplomats and political figures in October to discuss the Syrian conflict.

During her interview with CNN, Gabbard claimed the US was funding terrorist groups by assisting Syrian rebels and further pushed a talking point propagated by the Assad regime and the Russian government that there are no moderate rebels in Syria.

That argument was also at the center of an op-ed published by Gabbard on Thursday in her hometown newspaper, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

“Repeatedly I was told there is no difference between ‘moderate’ rebels and al-Qaeda (al-Nusra) or Isis – they are all the same,” Gabbard wrote.

“Although opposed to the Assad government, the political opposition leaders adamantly rejected violence as a way to bring about reforms.”

International monitoring organizations estimate there have been at least 400,000 civilian casualties in Syria during the war. Assad’s forces, supported by Russian airstrikes, have been accused of deliberately targeting civilians. More than 11 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes, according to the United Nations. The number includes those who are internally displaced, as well as the millions of displaced refugees in neighboring countries.

Gabbard was elected to the US Congress in 2012 and has been regarded as a rising star within the Democratic party.

Even so, she has often clashed with party officials and resigned from her position as vice-chair of the Democratic National Committee amid tensions over the 2016 presidential primary. Gabbard went on to endorse Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and became one of his most visible surrogates during the campaign.

Spokespeople for both Sanders and the DNC declined to comment on Gabbard’s meeting with Assad and subsequent refusal to criticize the dictator.

Additional reporting by Ben Jacobs in Philadelphia

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Over ariannelot

"Hidden manna from the promised "White Stone", Rev 2:17 P1446:5, 131:3.3 . . . It is evil to see sin where there is no sin; TO SEE NO SIN WHERE THERE IS SIN. Evil is the path of FALSE DOCTRINES. Those who avoid evil BY SEEING THINGS AS THEY ARE gain joy by thus embracing the truth. Make an end of your misery BY LOATHING SIN. When you look up to the Noble One, turn away from sin with a whole heart. Make no apology for evil; MAKE NO EXCUSE FOR SIN. By your efforts to make amends for past sins you acquire strength to resist future tendencies thereto. Restraint is born of repentance. Leave no fault unconfessed to the Noble One. 131:3.4 (1447.1) “Cheerfulness and gladness are the rewards of deeds well done and to the glory of the Immortal. No man can rob you of the liberty of your own mind. When the faith of your religion has emancipated your heart, when the mind, like a mountain, is settled and immovable, then shall the peace of the soul flow tranquilly like a river of waters. Those who are sure of salvation are forever free from lust, envy, hatred, and the delusions of wealth. While faith is the energy of the better life, nevertheless, must you work out your own salvation with perseverance. If you would be certain of your final salvation, then make sure that you sincerely seek to fulfill all righteousness. Cultivate the assurance of the heart which springs from within and thus come to enjoy the ecstasy of eternal salvation. ~~ Urantia Book Paper 131 ~~

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