Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Wednesday demanding details of a phone call between President Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that precipitated Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from northeastern Syria.
Menendez said the conversation and Trump’s decision to pull out the troops “set off a cascade of destabilizing events with great significance for the region” and accused the administration of giving Turkey a “green light” to invade Syria.
“It is imperative that Congress and the American people understand what President Trump said on his call with President Erdoğan,” Menendez wrote in the letter.
“We need to understand if another betrayal took place on October 6, and how Turkey came to possess the belief that it now has free rein in the region,” he added, referencing Trump’s July conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he pressured Kiev to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a chief political rival.
Menendez also asked Pompeo for answers to a series of questions, including whether the State Department agreed with Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, if Pompeo had advance knowledge of his decision and whether Pompeo or anyone from the State Department listened in on the call with Erdoğan.
Trump has been the focus of bipartisan ire since his decision earlier this month, with critics on Capitol Hill saying the withdrawal lifted the chief deterrent to a Turkish offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish groups in northeastern Syria.
Fears mounted this week after reports emerged that Kurdish groups, which had fought against ISIS with the U.S. and were detaining supporters of the terrorist group, were stretched thin in the fight against Ankara’s invasion, leading to the release of hundreds of ISIS prisoners.
“He will have American blood on his hands if he abandons Kurds because ISIS will come back. And if any American is killed anywhere because of a resurgent ISIS, it will fall on [the] Trump administration,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Wednesday.
Trump has said he condemns the offensive and announced this week he was slapping sanctions on government officials in Ankara and “any persons contributing to Turkey’s destabilizing actions in northeast Syria.” He’s also sending Vice President Pence to Turkey this week to meet with Erdoğan to try to hammer out a cease-fire.
The administration has defended its military pullout so far, saying the president campaigned on withdrawing U.S. forces from Middle East conflicts and that leaving troops in the area would have put them at risk.
“Due to Turkey’s irresponsible actions, the risk to U.S. forces in northeast Syria has reached an unacceptable level. We are also at risk of being engulfed in a broader conflict,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said in a statement, adding that “a small footprint” of U.S. forces will remain at the al-Tanf garrison in southern Syria “to continue to disrupt remnants of ISIS.”