Democrats are furious they were not told ahead of time about the raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and are now pressing for a full briefing on what happened.
Trump and his deputies have defended the decision not to notify Democrats, accusing them of leaking. And two of the president’s top Republican allies said Monday they too were not told in advance of the raid.
But Democrats say Trump’s failure to brief them ahead of the operation is part of a pattern evident since he announced he was withdrawing U.S. troops from northern Syria earlier this month.
“For almost a month now, we’ve been requesting an all-senators briefing from the administration on its Syria policy,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday. “And according to reports, the Trump administration gave Russia and Turkey some kind of advanced notice of the raid of al-Baghdadi but, seemingly by deliberate choice, neglected to notify the leaders of Congress as is custom in this case.”
“It seems clear that the Trump administration is either reluctant or simply unwilling to keep Congress in the loop on its plan to defeat ISIS and protect American interests in the region,” he added. “The most likely explanation, unfortunately, is that it does not have one.”
Trump announced Sunday that an overnight raid in the northwest Syrian town of Barisha ended after U.S. troops chased al-Baghdadi into a tunnel where he detonated his suicide vest, killing himself and three children.
The announcement gave Trump a boost as he battles the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry and faces criticism over his decision to withdraw from northern Syria, allowing a Turkish offensive against Kurdish forces to proceed.
But Democrats, even as they celebrated the death of the world’s most wanted terrorist, quickly criticized Trump’s handling of the raid.
In his remarks Sunday, Trump confirmed he told the Russians that the U.S. would be in the area ahead of time but said he didn’t tell Moscow the reason. Russia and Syria control the airspace in Idlib province, where the raid took place, and the U.S. and Russia have operated a “deconfliction” phone line since 2015 to ensure the two superpowers don’t fire on each other in Syria.
Trump also said he didn’t tell all congressional leaders about the raid beforehand because “Washington is a leaking machine.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) quickly slammed Trump for telling “the Russians but not top congressional leadership.”
“The House must be briefed on this raid, which the Russians but not top congressional leadership were notified of in advance, and on the Administration’s overall strategy in the region,” Pelosi said in a statement Sunday. “Our military and allies deserve strong, smart and strategic leadership from Washington.”
A Pelosi spokesman said Monday that a briefing has been requested, but “it has not been granted yet.”
Schumer similarly requested a briefing after Trump’s announcement.
“I look forward to receiving a briefing about this raid and the plan to deal with the escaped ISIS prisoners,” he said in a statement. In his floor remarks Monday, Schumer added Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper need to brief Congress “this week.”
A Schumer spokesman said Monday he did not have an update on the scheduling.
The White House dismissed Democrats’ calls for a briefing, with spokesman Hogan Gidley saying, “Leave it to Democrats to make this all about themselves.”
“It should be noted here that there is no statutory obligation for us to brief members of Congress,” Gidley told reporters. “So it’s another example of where Congress sets the rules but doesn’t want to play by their own rules.”
Statute requires the president to keep the congressional intelligence committees “fully and currently informed of all covert actions,” but not “traditional … military activities” under which the raid could arguably fall.
According to reports from 2011, former President Obama and other administration officials called congressional leaders in both parties immediately after the Osama bin Laden raid but before Obama’s public remarks.
Then-Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), who was the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said at the time that the House and Senate Intelligence committees were briefed over the preceding few months on bin Laden’s whereabouts and that the Gang of Eight were briefed on plans for the raid, according to a 2011 Congressional Research Service report.
The Gang of Eight includes the House Speaker, House minority leader, Senate majority leader, Senate minority leader and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Monday he was called by then-Vice President Joe Biden after the bin Laden raid. He confirmed that he hadn’t been notified before the al-Baghdadi raid.
“I wasn’t, but I was in the similar position when President Obama ordered the attack on Osama bin Laden. I was not called in advance then, nor do I expect to be called in advance now,” McConnell told reporters.
“The administration attempted to let me know. I didn’t connect with them before the president’s press conference, but they attempted to let me know before he went public, so the two situations were handled exactly the same from my point of view,” McConnell added.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also told reporters from NBC and CNN on Monday he was not briefed ahead of the al-Baghdadi raid. A spokesman for McCarthy confirmed the comments to The Hill.
Asked Monday about entrusting Pelosi with information on the raid, Trump railed against House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). Schiff is leading the House impeachment inquiry into Trump, and the president has repeatedly attacked him in recent weeks.
“He’s a leaker like nobody has ever seen before,” Trump said of Schiff, before launching into a rant on Schiff’s handling of the impeachment probe.
On Monday evening, Trump continued to zero in on Schiff amid the demands for a briefing.
“Can you believe that Shifty Adam Schiff, the biggest leaker in D.C., and a corrupt politician, is upset that we didn’t inform him before we raided and killed the #1 terrorist in the WORLD!? Wouldn’t be surprised if the Do Nothing Democrats Impeach me over that! DRAIN THE SWAMP!!” Trump tweeted.
Pompeo defended Trump, saying on “Fox & Friends” that the administration “wanted to take no risk that anyone would ever compromise the operation, so we were very focused on information security.”
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said in a statement he was “extremely troubled” Trump only notified a few Republicans, adding that Trump’s “implication that Speaker Pelosi, the elected representative third in line for the Presidency, cannot be trusted with sensitive information is tremendously problematic and insulting.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), meanwhile, said in a statement that “the administration and [Pentagon] officials must have open and continuous dialogue with congressional officials so we can fully understand the next steps and the long-term strategy for the region.”
Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) said Monday on CNN it was a sign of “disrespect.”
“But to disrespect the Speaker of the House, who is in the direct line of succession to the president, and to not inform bipartisan leaders in Congress, to only inform a few Republicans,” Coons said, “I think was just one more important norm of cooperation shattered by this president.”
Jordain Carney and Brett Samuels contributed.