For the second time, this Administration has taken unilateral military action without telling Congress or the American people its legal authority. This isn’t the system our Constitution has established and it’s not the way our democracy works. Not only has this Administration not gone to Congress for authority, but it has defied Congress’s requests to even share its view of its authority. It has repeatedly refused to provide its legal rationale to Congress when Members asked for it based on last April’s strikes. Congress even instituted a legal obligation for the Administration to report on its strategy for Syria, including its legal authorities, which is months overdue from the deadline in the National Defense Authorization Act.
We share in the outrage over Assad’s atrocities. He has committed horrific crimes against humanity that the world must unite to confront. But we should not allow ourselves to be duped into quiet acceptance of this President’s outsized claim to military powers. If we wish to show leadership against Assad’s unlawful acts, our own response must be, at the very least, legitimate. Because if we accept this President’s claims to unilateral power to decide to take America to war in Syria, he will claim power to do so against North Korea, Iran or even France, and that’s not how the Founders designed our Constitution to work.
Our organization has been in court for nearly a year, while stonewalled by this Administration, to see its largely unclassified seven-page legal memo justifying the Syria strikes of April 2017. The Department of Justice said it would use it again “to advise the President on future military actions.” And that day, unfortunately, is here again, while the Administration continues to use secret legal theories.
Yesterday, CIA Director Pompeo testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He promised, in response to a question by Tim Kaine, that he would release the memo to Congress. Senators Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Bob Menendez, Tim Kaine, and Chris Murphy all expressed concern about the legality of strikes, and in the House of Representatives, 88 Republican and Democratic Members wrote to the President urging him to consult with Congress before initiating military action against Syria, which they wrote would violate the Constitution’s separation of powers.
And in the next couple weeks, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will consider a new Authorization of Use of Military Force. Given this Administration’s opposition to transparency on how it views the lawfulness of its uses of force, we hope Senators will correct that and reassert Congress’ role under our Constitution.