Wednesday, September 20, 2017
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Democracy Forward filed suit today against the Trump Administration after the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) refused to reveal whether the White House consulted military officials before then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer warned of an imminent Syrian chemical weapons strike that, according to the White House, “would likely result in the mass murder of civilians” if conducted.
The White House statement was issued on June 26, 2017—hours before Congress prepared for an uncertain vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act—and claimed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was making “potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack…similar to preparations the regime made before its April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack.” The White House refused to provide further information, and the allegation never materialized.
Following the warning, media reports revealed military and diplomatic officials were “left in the dark” and “caught off guard” by the White House claim. For example, one military official at U.S. Central Command, which is responsible for directing U.S. military operations in the Middle East, claimed he had “no idea” about the potential for a Syrian chemical attack. Another Administration official, a senior policy advisor at the State Department, claimed to have first heard the news from the Associated Press.
“Following President Trump’s failure to offer a strategy on Syria in remarks to the UN General Assembly, it’s distressing that President Trump still apparently believes he knows ‘more than the generals,’” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “In refusing to reveal whether the White House consulted military officials before warning of an imminent chemical weapons attack and threatening to put our troops in harm’s way, the Trump Administration is making our government less transparent and our democracy less safe.”
Democracy Forward filed a Freedom of Information Act request in June seeking records from DOD to uncover whether military officials were consulted prior to the White House statement. DOD has failed to respond to the request.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.