Dem Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: Why, yes, I met with Assad on my freelance visit to Syria

My goodness. Logan Act violations are like Bigfoot sightings: Claims are made all the time but they’re never solid enough to convince anyone. In this case, we may have the equivalent of a real-life ‘Squatch in captivity. Quote:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

Gabbard went to Damascus not only without the endorsement of leaders in Congress, she went without their knowledge. Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi had no idea she was gone until after she’d arrived in Syria. It was the Ohio chapter of the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services that footed the bill for her, apparently, which until today had been another mystery about Gabbard’s trip. Watch the clip below. It sounds like she went to Damascus to lend Assad moral support and to carry back talking points aimed at convincing Americans to take his side. Unless you want to argue that no “dispute” technically exists between the U.S. and Syria, which would be hard given the American aid provided to anti-Assad rebels, how is this not a Logan Act violation? Does being a member of Congress mean by definition that she enjoys the “authority of the United States” in carrying out freelance diplomacy?

A choice bit from her interview with Tapper below:

“When the opportunity arose to meet with [Assad], 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’s a possibility that we could achieve peace,” Gabbard said. “And that’s exactly what we’ve talked about.”

What do you mean “we”? The president speaks for Americans on foreign policy. Last week that was Obama, this week it’s Trump. Meeting with Assad is especially dubious since the U.S. broke off official diplomatic relations with his regime several years ago. It was the judgment of the White House that he’s a sufficiently monstrous human that the United States shouldn’t legitimize him by formally meeting with him. Gabbard, a member of Congress, had other ideas. By what authority does her judgment trump Trump’s?

Note that Tapper invites her to criticize Assad near the end of the clip and she dodges, which is par for the course. Last March she was the only Democrat in the House (along with two Republicans) to vote no on a resolution condemning the Assad regime for crimes against humanity. This bit from the Tapper interview is straight out of Assad’s book of talking points too:

“Every place that I went, every person that I spoke to, I asked this question to them [about arming moderate rebels], and without hesitation they said, ‘There are no moderate rebels,’ ‘Who are these moderate rebels that people keep speaking of?'” Gabbard said. “Regardless of the name of these groups, the strongest fighting force on the ground in Syria is al-Nusra or Al Qaeda and ISIS. That is a fact.”

Every place that she went was, by definition, territory controlled by Assad. I’d be surprised if she got to speak with a single person without approval from the regime. It’s one thing to believe that backing Assad is the least atrocious choice in a war with nothing but atrocious choices but to go on CNN and present your propaganda visit as some sort of independent fact-finding mission amounts to shilling for a war criminal. She’s disgraceful.

Trump and Steve Bannon like her, though, of course, despite the fact that she’s a progressive who backed Bernie Sanders during the primaries. She met with Trump in November, in fact, not long after the election. Which brings us to the money question: What’s going to be Trump’s posture towards Assad? Given his apologizing for Russia and his focus on ISIS as America’s chief enemy, he may end up right in line with Gabbard on Syria. After all, Assad is Moscow’s client; one theory of why Trump and Bannon invited her to Trump Tower is that they’re planning to reorient Syria policy towards backing him and wanted Gabbard’s friendship so that they can claim bipartisan support for the effort. The wrinkle is that Trump and his cabinet, starting with Mattis and Flynn, are also stridently anti-Iran — yet Iran is Assad’s chief sponsor and has been for years. Many thousands of Iranian and Hezbollah troops have fought for the regime in Syria. So, which way does Trump go: Pro-Assad, in order to align himself with Russia against ISIS, or anti-Assad, to position himself against Iran? He’d better huddle with his new friend Putin and figure out a mutually agreeable posture towards the Iranians or else the U.S.-Russia detente won’t last long.