Gabbard won't disclose who's paying for secret trip to Syria
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard didn’t give House leaders any warning that she was traveling to Syria. | Getty
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s office won’t say who is paying for the Hawaii Democrat’s controversial trip to Syria and Lebanon this week.
Gabbard spokeswoman Emily Latimer said the trip wasn’t funded using taxpayer dollars and was approved by the House Ethics Committee but wouldn’t provide further information when pressed by POLITICO. The lawmaker is currently on the trip, though it’s not clear exactly when she’ll be returning.
“For security reasons, we will not be releasing additional details or comments until she returns,” Latimer said in an email.
Congressional leaders were blindsided by Gabbard’s trip to war-ravaged Syria with staffers saying she didn’t give the customary advanced warning to Democratic or Republican leadership offices.
Latimer wouldn’t say whether Gabbard met with Syrian President Bashar Assad. Lebanese officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the trip.
Hill insiders say they believe the trip was paid for by a non-governmental organization (NGO) but aren’t sure which one or if it has ties to the Assad regime. The trip, which Latimer called a “fact-finding” mission, was first reported by Foreign Policy.
This isn’t the first time Gabbard has defied her party or conventional norms. She criticized the Obama administration’s actions on Syria, endorsed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary and was one of the first Democrats to meet with President-elect Donald Trump.
But this trip shocked congressional aides from both parties.
Gabbard, who sits on both the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees is opposed to U.S. military intervention in the war-ravaged country.
She has even accused the Obama administration of funding terrorist groups and introduced legislation in December that would prevent the administration from “directly or indirectly supporting” groups including ISIS and al Qaeda.
Gabbard brought up her concerns about U.S. interventionism during a November meeting with Trump. “I felt it is important to take the opportunity to meet the President-elect now before the drumbeats of war that neocons have been beating drag us into an escalation of the war to overthrow the Syrian government,” she said in a statement after the meeting.
In the past Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran, has condemned efforts to overthrow Assad, saying ousting the Syrian president would just create more instability in the already volatile region.
She also voted against a House resolution in 2016 condemning “war crimes and crimes against humanity” by the Syrian government.
“She felt it was important to meet with a number of individuals and groups including religious leaders, humanitarian workers, refugees and government and community leaders,” Latimer said.