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Will U.S. Raid On ISIS Leader Ease Pressure On Trump?

Oct 28, 2019
Originally published on October 28, 2019 7:51 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One of many questions about the killing of an ISIS leader is how it affects the political standing of President Trump. The president's televised announcement came amid an impeachment inquiry. It also came amid criticism of his approach to Syria, the very country in which U.S. special forces killed Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez in our studios. Good morning.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Does this mute the criticism of the president?

ORDOÑEZ: In the short term, I would say yes, especially among Republicans. Just take a look, for example, at Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He is a strong Republican ally of the president. But he's been very, very critical of Trump's moves in Syria to undercut the Syrian Kurds. But yesterday, he was at the White House, praising the president and calling this move a game-changer. On the other hand, Democrats are raising serious concerns. While applauding Baghdadi's death and the courage of American forces, they're also very critical of the overall strategy.

INSKEEP: Let me note one detail of this announcement that particularly bothered Democrats. It is normal, has been for generations, that top congressional leaders are told about sensitive information or military operations. There's even a procedure. There are a group of eight lawmakers called the Gang of Eight - four Republicans, four Democrats, top leaders of the House and Senate, top leaders of the intelligence committees. That Gang of Eight is normally told. In this case, Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, says her side wasn't told.

ORDOÑEZ: That's right. She was extremely concerned about that. The reason President Trump said - and he was asked about this yesterday - was he said he was worried about leaks. He said Washington leaks, and he didn't want to put U.S. troops in danger.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Washington is a leaking machine. And I told my people we will not notify them until the - our great people are out - not just in but out. I don't want to have them greeted with firepower like you wouldn't believe.

INSKEEP: But some people were told in advance.

ORDOÑEZ: Yes. Some members were told in advance - Senator Richard Burr - he's head of the intelligence committee but a Republican. Only Republicans, none of the Democrats, were alerted. And it really speaks to the distrust in Washington right now and, frankly, the state of our politics right now. Pelosi, you know, issued a statement saying that the House needs to be briefed on the raid. She took a very serious jab at the president, saying he let the Russians know beforehand but not the congressional leaders like her. Nonetheless, this is a major foreign policy victory for Trump. And it comes at one of the most challenging times of his presidency.

INSKEEP: Because, of course, this impeachment inquiry that we mentioned is going ahead. And there was supposed to be more testimony this week. Is that happening?

ORDOÑEZ: There is supposed to be more testimony this week, and there will be more testimony this week. But today, a big witness is not showing up - Charles Kupperman. He is the former deputy national security adviser to John Bolton. He was supposed to testify, but the White House said he couldn't, claiming immunity from the investigation. But Congress issued a subpoena. Kupperman filed a lawsuit asking a judge to decide whether he needs to show up, whether he needs to abide by the congressional subpoena or listen to the White House. And he has not yet. This could have serious repercussions on future witnesses, including possibly Bolton - John Bolton, the national security adviser - as other top ones.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And we should note again - the White House has said they won't cooperate at all. But some people have been making their own choices to take the risk of cooperating or not. And this is Kupperman's choice - for now, anyway.

ORDOÑEZ: Yes, absolutely.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.