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Trump Administration Pressured to Release Secret War Powers Memo

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) worried that the "legal justification" detailed in the memo "may now become precedent for additional executive unilateral military action," such as bombings in Syria or North Korea

Kaine

U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is demanding that the Trump administration release a seven-page secret war powers memo. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/cc)

Raising concerns about U.S. bombings in Syria and reports of a potential strike against North Korea, a senator on the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees is demanding the release of a secret memo that outlines the war powers that President Donald Trump believes he has.

"The fact that there is a lengthy memo with a more detailed legal justification that has not been shared with Congress, or the American public, is unacceptable."
—Sen. Tim Kaine

In a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—obtained by NBC News—Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) wrote Thursday: "The fact that there is a lengthy memo with a more detailed legal justification that has not been shared with Congress, or the American public, is unacceptable."

Kaine explained he is "concerned that this legal justification may now become precedent for additional executive unilateral military action, including this week's U.S. airstrikes in Syria against pro-Assad forces or even an extremely risky 'bloody nose' strike against North Korea," pointing to reports of airstrikes on Wednesday, which have elevated concerns that the U.S. "is now in mission-creep mode."

The existence of the Trump administration's seven-page war powers memo was revealed "last fall due to a Freedom of Information Act filed by Protect Democracy seeking Trump's legal justification" for a bombing campaign ordered by Trump last April, NBC reports, adding that "Kaine's bid for more disclosure is part of a broader controversy over how legislation passed shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks is being used for an open-ended battle against Islamic terrorist groups, including ISIS, that are not covered under the current version of what's called an AUMF, or authorization to use military force."

Despite bipartisan support for ending the 2001 AUMF—which has no expiration date and has been criticized as a "blank check" for "endless war"—the measure has weathered numerous repeal efforts by lawmakers. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said last month that progress had been made toward legislation that world give Congress more control over military action in the Middle East.

Kaine's letter also pointed to reports last month that indicated war hawks within the Trump administration are pushing the "enormously risky idea" of a "bloody nose" bombing—essentially, the U.S. would react to a North Korean nuclear or missile test "with a targeted strike" meant to "bloody Pyongyang's nose and illustrate the high price the regime could pay for its behavior." Critics of the proposal worry the move could trigger a devastating conventional war, or even a nuclear engagement.

Responding to those reports, a group of Democratic senators sent a letter to the president on Monday stating that they are "deeply concerned about the potential consequences of a preemptive military strike on North Korea and the risks of miscalculation and retaliation," and warning that "without congressional authority, a preventative or preemptive U.S. military strike would lack either a constitutional basis or legal authority."

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