Democracy Watchdog Turns Up Heat on White House to Answer for 'Illegal' Syria Strike
'The legal basis for the strikes was of significant interest to the American public and Congress'
A watchdog group on Monday stepped up its efforts to get the Trump administration to answer for its military strike on Syria in April.
The Protect Democracy Project filed a motion asking a judge to order several federal agencies to give expedited answers to the group's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, filed earlier this month, that sought justification for the strike.
The group sent FOIAs to the Departments of Defense, State, and Justice, requesting any documents that laid out President Donald Trump's legal basis for ordering the April 6 bombing of a Syrian government airfield. So far, only two of four Justice Department bureaus—the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)—have honored those requests, the group said.
"Protect Democracy requested that the agencies process those FOIA requests on an expedited basis because the records sought could inform the public on an urgent federal government activity that is a matter of widespread media interest," the group's motion, filed Monday night, reads. "The president had indicated in a letter to Congress that he might escalate the conflict, and the legal basis for the strikes was of significant interest to the American public and Congress."
The motion comes just days after the Trump administration ordered another strike on Syrian government-allied forces, "all without ever having disclosed the president's legal justification for initiating this conflict," the group said. "In light of this continued military action, Protect Democracy's motion for a preliminary injunction seeks to compel all defendants to process its FOIA requests on an expedited basis, and produce all requested records (or acknowledge if there are no such records) without further delay."
"Relief is necessary to avoid the irreparable harm that would occur if the military conflict escalates further while, at the same time, the American people and their elected representatives are denied the information they need to participate in democratic debate," the motion continued.
Politico notes that the involvement of lawyers in preparing justification for the strikes "appears to have been minimal or non-existent."
The White House has previously cited a 2011 OLC memo regarding former President Barack Obama's actions in Libya as justification for the April strikes. However, critics have questioned whether that opinion could apply to the actions in Syria, which many lawmakers termed as illegal and unconstitutional.