- The Trump administration announced Sunday that it would be stepping aside to let Turkey launch a military operation against Kurdish forces in Syria.
- Many condemned the move and argued that the U.S. was clearly abandoning U.S.-backed Kurdish forces that have been on the frontlines fighting against ISIS alongside U.S. troops in the region.
- On Monday, U.S. officials confirmed that troops in Syria were already being removed following the announcement.
White House Announcement
U.S. troops began withdrawing from Syria on Monday, following a controversial announcement by the White House a day prior that U.S. forces will stand aside as Turkey launches a military offensive in Northern Syria.
The statement, made by White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham, followed a phone call between President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” the statement said. “The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”
The statement went on to say that the U.S. has “pressed France, Germany, and other European nations, from which many captured ISIS fighters came, to take them back, but they did not want them and refused.”
“The United States will not hold them for what could be many years and great cost to the United States taxpayer,” it continued. “Turkey will now be responsible for all ISIS fighters in the area captured over the past two years in the wake of the defeat of the territorial ‘Caliphate’ by the United States.”
It is unclear from that statement whether or not all of the nearly 1,000 troops in the region will be removed. What is clear is that the announcement comes as a major shift in U.S. policy in the region that many on both sides of the aisle oppose.
U.S. Kurdish Allies
The announcement comes as a clear sign that the U.S. is abandoning its main ally in the fight against ISIS: Kurdish forces near the Syrian border.
U.S. forces on the ground in Syria have recruited and trained the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces for years. Those forces have done the majority of fighting on the ground against ISIS fighters.
That is also not all they have done. Despite the claim in the White House’s statement that the U.S. is holding captured ISIS fighters at the taxpayer’s expense, it is actually Kurdish forces, and not the U.S., that have kept ISIS fighters and their family members in makeshift camps in Northern Syria.
For a while, Erdogan has been critical of the U.S.’s alliance with the Kurdish forces. Turkey has a separatist movement near its border with Syria made of Kurds, called the PKK. Turkey claims that the YPG and PKK are allied and considers them both terrorists.
The Turkish operation is geared to use military force to clear “terrorists” east of the Euphrates river, a region controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces and YPG.
When Turkey says it is going to target terrorists east of the Euphrates River, many believe it is a clear message that they plan to remove Kurdish forces from their borders.
Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have also warned that allowing Turkey to go forward with a military operation will send a bad message about U.S. commitment to its allies.
But any bloodshed and damage a Turkish military operation against the Kurds in Syria will bring is not the only concern for the U.S.
Sunday’s announcement reportedly also goes against the recommendations of top U.S. officials in the Pentagon and the State Department.
Military officials have also argued that the U.S. needs the Kurdish forces to fight against an ISIS resurgence, as well as to guard the facilities where ISIS militants and their families are being held.
Those concerns were echoed in a series of tweets from the SDF on Sunday, where the group argued that a Turkish attack would “Reverse the successful effort to defeat #ISIS, where #SDF sacrificed 11K martyrs.”
(3)— Coordination & Military Ops Center – SDF (@cmoc_sdf) October 7, 2019
Any #Turkish attack will result in:
1. Reverse the successful effort to defeat #ISIS, where #SDF sacrificed 11K martyrs of our sons & daughters over 5 years of war, which led to destroy the caliphate & created stability & security for the people of NE #Syria.
The SDF also said that the move will lead to “The return of leaders of #ISIS” and that ISIS would break out the nearly 12,000 prisoners held by Kurdish forces.
( 5)— Coordination & Military Ops Center – SDF (@cmoc_sdf) October 7, 2019
3. The return of leaders of #ISIS who are hidden in the desert & Euphrates Shield areas to in of NE #Syria. #ISIS cells will break their terrorist out of prisons (12K terrorists) & camps ( 70K #Daesh families) which is a threat to local & international security.@CJTFOIR
A great number of prominent lawmakers, including some of Trump’s main allies, also responded to Trump, condemning the move.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wrote a laundry list of tweets Monday criticizing the move, calling it a “disaster in the making,” and claiming it “will be a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds.”
* Ensures ISIS comeback.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 7, 2019
* Forces Kurds to align with Assad and Iran.
* Destroys Turkey’s relationship with U.S. Congress.
* Will be a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds.
“If this plan goes forward will introduce Senate resolution opposing and asking for reversal of this decision,” he wrote. “Expect it will receive strong bipartisan support.”
Also, if this plan goes forward will introduce Senate resolution opposing and asking for reversal of this decision. Expect it will receive strong bipartisan support.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 7, 2019
“By abandoning the Kurds we have sent the most dangerous signal possible – America is an unreliable ally and it’s just a matter of time before China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea act out in dangerous ways,” he later added.
By abandoning the Kurds we have sent the most dangerous signal possible – America is an unreliable ally and it’s just a matter of time before China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea act out in dangerous ways.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) October 7, 2019
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) also responded while speaking Fox News.
“I want to make sure we keep our word for those who fight with us and help us,” he said. “If you make a commitment and somebody is fighting with you, America should keep their word.”
Speaker of the House Mitch McConnell (R-KY) also spoke out against the president’s efforts.
“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup,” he said in a statement. “American interests are best served by leadership, not by retreat or withdrawal.”
Trump Defends Himself
Trump still defended his decision on Twitter.
“When I arrived in Washington, ISIS was running rampant in the area. We quickly defeated 100% of the ISIS Caliphate,” he wrote, before going on to say that Europe has refused to take back captured ISIS fighters the U.S. is holding. “As usual, that the U.S. is always the “sucker,” on NATO, on Trade, on everything.”
“The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades,” he continued. “It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.”
…..again said “NO,” thinking, as usual, that the U.S. is always the “sucker,” on NATO, on Trade, on everything. The Kurds fought with us, but were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so. They have been fighting Turkey for decades. I held off this fight for….— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2019
…figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their “neighborhood.” They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years. We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2019
“Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out, and what they want to do with the captured ISIS fighters in their ‘neighborhood,’” he added. “They all hate ISIS, have been enemies for years. We are 7000 miles away and will crush ISIS again if they come anywhere near us!”
Withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria was a big campaign promise of Trump’s. In December 2018, the president made a sudden announcement that ISIS had been defeated and that he was withdrawing all military personnel from Syria.
That decision received significant backlash from both Democrats and Republicans, as well as military and foreign policy personnel in the Trump Administration.
However both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence doubled-down on the claim that ISIS was defeated in the region, even after Islamic State agents took responsibility for a suicide bombing in January, that left 19 people, including four Americans, dead in a U.S.-controlled city in Syria.
Toward the end of February, the Trump administration made a significant reversal and announced that it would leave about 400 troops in the region. In early March, several members of Congress wrote Trump a letter urging him to keep troops in Syria. Trump responded to that letter, writing “I agree 100%”
Now, the administration’s most recent decision seems to be a definitive shift towards troop removal, and critics of the plan appear to have similar precautions as last time Trump made a similar effort.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Signs Restrictive Elections Bill Into Law
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a sweeping elections bill into law Thursday that critics say will significantly limit voting access.
- Among other measures, the bill will impose new restrictions on ballot drop boxes, add barriers to mail-in voting, and limit who can hand out materials to voters at polling locations — a provision many believe will ban the distribution of food and water.
- While Republicans claim the bill is necessary to provide election security and transparency, Democrats and voting rights advocates argue that it will suppress voters, particularly voters of color.
- DeSantis also received widespread backlash from critics and the media for taking the unprecedented step of blocking all journalists from attending the signing ceremony for the law, which was broadcasted exclusively on Fox News.
Newest Voting Restrictions Law
Florida became the latest Republican-led state to impose new voting restrictions Thursday when Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a broad elections bill into law.
The new law contains many provisions similar to the dozens of pieces of legislation aimed at restricting voting access that have been proposed and approved in the months following the 2020 election.
Among other measures, the Florida law will:
- Limit the use of drop boxes and impose new restrictions on where they can be placed.
- Add more identification requirements for requesting absentee ballots.
- Require voters to request absentee ballots for each election, rather than getting them automatically through a voting list.
- Limit who can collect and drop off ballots.
- Give more power to partisan observers during the ballot-counting process.
- Expand a current rule that bans outside groups from engaging in actions that could influence voting within a 150-foot radius of a polling place, which voting rights experts say could be used to prohibit people from giving out food and water to voters waiting in line to vote.
On top of that, critics have also said the new law could result in longer lines for both early in-person and Election Day voting. Democrats and voting rights advocates have also argued that this is just a transparent attempt to suppress voters, and specifically voters of color.
Republicans, meanwhile, have claimed the new law is necessary to make elections more secure — claims that were reiterated by DeSantis during the signing ceremony.
“Me signing this bill says, ‘Florida, your vote counts,’” he said. “Your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency, and this is a great place for democracy.”
DeSantis Blocks Media From Bill Signing
In addition to backlash against the new law itself, many condemned DeSantis for speaking about transparency but then completely shutting the media out of the signing, which was broadcasted exclusively on Fox News.
Numerous individual reporters and outlets were blocked from accessing the event, including Jay O’Brien, a reporter for the local CBS affiliate, who tweeted that the station was supposed to film pool footage of the event to feed to affiliates nationwide.
“This isn’t a story about the press being locked out of an event,” O’Brien later added. “It’s about Floridians who had their eyes and ears in that room cut off. @GovRonDeSantis signed a law today that will impact ALL Floridians. And only some viewers were allowed to see it. That’s not normal.”
That disbelief was also echoed by other outlets, like The New York Times, which explained that “Giving exclusive access to a cable news network was unusual, if not unprecedented.”
The Flordia law, which was immediately challenged by civil rights groups in federal court, comes just months after Georgia passed a similar, widely controverisal bill.
Meanwhile in Texas, Republican leaders are ignoring the pleas of major corporations like Dell, Microsoft, and American Airlines by moving forward with legislation that would make the state one of the toughest to vote in throughout the entire country. That proposal, which has already been passed by the state Senate, could see a full state House vote as early as next week.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CBS News)
Biden Administration To Reunite Four Migrant Families Separated Under Trump
- Four migrant families split up under former President Trump’s child separation policy will be reunited this week, Biden administration officials said Sunday.
- More than 5,500 children were separated from their parents from 2017 to 2018. Around 1,000 families remained separated when Trump left office and over half had not been contacted by the administration.
- Shortly after taking office in January, President Biden formed the Family Reunification Task Force, which has located at least 200 more parents. The families that will be reunited later this week mark the first that the task force has connected.
- While immigration advocates applauded the move, they also criticized Biden’s team for not moving faster or pouring adequate resources into reunification efforts.
Four Migrant Families To Reunite
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced Sunday that four migrant parents who were separated from their children and deported alone under former President Donald Trump’s controversial family separation policy will be allowed to return to the U.S. and reunite with their kids.
The “zero tolerance” policy, one of Trump’s most notorious actions on immigration, was formally enacted in April 2018 and ended just months later in June after a federal judge forced the administration to stop.
It was later revealed that the administration had actually been regularly separating families throughout much of 2017. According to government documents, over 5,500 children were separated from their parents in 2017 and 2018.
Most of those families were later reunited, but at least 1,000 parents remained separated because a parent had been deported. More than half of those parents — an estimated 645 — still had not been contacted by the time Trump left office.
President Joe Biden has said reuniting families would be a top priority as he begins undoing the complex network of immigration policies set by Trump. This latest move marks the first families that will be reunited through the Family Reunification Task Force, which Biden created shortly after taking office in January.
So far, that task force has managed to find around 200 of the 645 remaining parents and recently reported that it’s looking into 5,600 files from the first few months of the Trump administration that may have evidence of even more separations.
Immigration Advocates Call for More
While immigration advocates and lawyers applauded the move, they also criticized the slow rate of reunification. Some also accused the Biden administration of taking credit for the reunions despite doing very little to facilitate them.
“Despite what Secretary Mayorkas would have the public believe, DHS has done nothing to facilitate the return and reunification of these parents this week, other than to agree to allow them in,” said Carol Anne Donohoe, a managing attorney for the reunification project run by immigrant advocacy organization Al Otro Lado.
“The only reason these mothers will be standing at the port of entry is because Al Otro Lado negotiated their travel visas with the Mexican government, paid for their airline tickets and arranged for reunification,” she added.
Many advocacy groups have also slammed the Biden administration for not doing enough to plan what happens next for these families. Some have urged them to provide permanent legal status to parents so they cannot be separated from their children again, as well as support services and potential financial compensation.
The parents arriving this week will be allowed to temporarily stay in the country under what’s called humanitarian parole, their long-term immigration status and what happens from here is largely up in the air.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (NBC News)
Matt Gaetz’s “Wingman” Reportedly Said the Congressman Paid for Sex With a Minor
- The Daily Beast reported Thursday that it had obtained a letter written by Joel Greenberg, an accused sex trafficker and a close associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), where he admitted that he and the congressman paid for sex with numerous young women, including a 17-year-old girl.
- In the letter, Greenberg allegedly claimed that he and Gaetz believed the girl was 19 but ended contact in September 2017 after realizing she was a minor. Once she turned 18, he said both men re-established contact.
- The Daily Beast also obtained alleged screenshots of messages where Greenberg offered to pay Roger Stone to help him secure a pardon from then-President Trump. Greenberg admitted he and Gaetz paid for sex with a minor in those messages as well.
- In a statement, Stone confirmed that he had spoken to Greenberg about a possible pardon and said he had requested Greenberg’s letter but denied receiving compensation. Gaetz, who is currently under investigation for possible violations of sex trafficking laws, denied ever paying for sex or having sex with a minor.
Alleged Greenberg Letters
Joel Greenberg, an accused sex trafficker and a central figure in the ongoing federal investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), admitted that both men paid for sex with multiple young women and a 17-year-old girl, according to a letter obtained by The Daily Beast Thursday.
Greenberg was indicted last summer on 33 counts, including sex trafficking a minor. The former Florida politician is an ally of Gaetz, who is currently the subject of a Justice Department investigation that is allegedly part of a broader probe into Greenberg.
The letter in question was reportedly written after Greenberg asked Roger Stone, a close associate of former President Donald Trump, to help him obtain a pardon from the then-president before he left office.
According to The Daily Beast, Greenberg had written multiple drafts of the letter at Stone’s request, including “two typed versions and an earlier handwritten one,” seen by the outlet. In at least one of the letters, Greenberg reportedly said both he and Gaetz had repeated interactions with a girl who was 17-years-old.
“On more than one occasion, this individual was involved in sexual activities with several of the other girls, the congressman from Florida’s 1st Congressional District and myself,” he allegedly wrote of the girl.
“From time to time, gas money or gifts, rent or partial tuition payments were made to several of these girls, including the individual who was not yet 18. I did see the acts occur firsthand and Venmo transactions, Cash App or other payments were made to these girls on behalf of the Congressman.”
In the drafts, Greenberg purportedly stated that “all of the girls were in college or post college,” and he claimed that he and Gaetz had believed the minor was 19 at the time of their sexual relationships with her.
He said he learned she was underage in September of 2017 and contacted Gaetz, who he reportedly wrote was “equally shocked and disturbed by this revelation.” After that Greenberg said, “there was no further contact with this individual until after her 18th birthday.”
However, after she was legal, Greenberg contacted her again, according to The Daily Beast, which previously reported Gaetz had sent Greenberg $900 on Venmo asking him to “hit up” the same girl five months after she turned 18.
Messages Between Greenberg and Stone
The outlet also obtained a series of private messages between Greenberg and Stone starting in late 2020 that had been sent over the encrypted app Singal. Greenberg appears to have taken screenshots of a number of conversations, which are automatically deleted after a set period of time.
“If I get you $250k in Bitcoin would that help or is this not a financial matter,” Greenberg wrote to Stone in one of the screenshots published in the exposé.
“I hope you are prepared to wire me $250,000 because I am feeling confident,” Stone appears to have responded in a message The Daily Beast said was sent on Jan. 13. Just weeks before, Trump pardoned Stone himself for his 2019 conviction.
The images also appear to show Greenberg describing his activities with Gaetz, who he repeatedly refers to as “MG” or “Matt.” In one exchange, Greenberg says that he has not spoken to Gaetz and implored Stone to help him reach out to the congressman.
“He absolutely has to know that the sex charge they hit me with would be what they would hit him with,” he wrote, per the screenshot.
The Daily Beast additionally detailed several other messages between the two men that it did not provide screenshots of. In one alleged interaction, the outlet claims that Greenberg said that federal law enforcement officials were pressuring him to cooperate with their investigation and that he fired his lawyers for urging him to do the same.
“My lawyers that I fired, know the whole story about MG’s involvement,” he purportedly wrote. “They know he paid me to pay the girls and that he and I both had sex with the girl who was underage. So naturally they think that is my golden ticket.”
However, according to the outlet, Stone said several times that Gaetz refused his request to help with the matter. Greenberg did not ultimately receive the pardon, though The Daily Beast stated that White House officials confirmed his name had made it on a list of possible candidates, a detail backed up messages seen by the outlet.
“What I don’t understand is why [Gaetz] would not help me at all and actually told me not to help you which I tried to do anyway. In the end it would not have mattered,” Stone purportedly wrote after Trump had announced his final pardons.
Official Responses to Latest Allegations
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Stone confirmed that Greenberg had tried to hire him to help get a pardon, but denied that he asked for or received payment.
“I made no formal or informal effort in regard to a pardon for Mr. Greenberg,” Stone said. “I recall requesting a document explaining his prosecution The [sic] details of which I was unfamiliar with.”
“I never requested or received a penny from Mr. Greenberg,” he continued. “I recall him offering to retain me and I declined.”
Stone also acknowledged that there may be “copies of correspondence” between him and Greenberg, but he questioned whether they were in full context.
“Sounds to me like you have been presented some kind of cut and paste record,” he said, warning the outlet to “be very careful” and threatening legal action if it published “anything that is false or defamatory.”
Greenberg’s lawyer declined to comment on the story. Gaetz’s office did not respond to the request to comment, but Logan Circle Group, an outside PR firm hired by the Congressman, denied the accusations in a statement.
“Congressman Gaetz has never paid for sex nor has he had sex with a 17 year old as an adult,” the firm said. “We are now one month after your outlet and others first reported such lies, and no one has gone on record to directly accuse him of either.”