Sarah Sanders Refutes McCain Criticism: ‘Outrageous’ to Suggest Trump Greenlit Syrian Chemical Attack

Chemical Weapons
Civil Defense White Helmets via AP
Washington, DC

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders slapped back the suggestion of Sen. John McCain that President Donald Trump emboldened Syria to use chemical weapons on civilians.

Sanders was asked during Monday’s White House press briefing about McCain’s claim that when Trump signaled possible American military force withdrawals from Syria, he “emboldened” Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad to attack men, women, and children with chemical weapons.

The reporter asked if Trump’s comments gave Syria a “green light,” as McCain had suggested.

“We’re still there and I think that it is outrageous to say that the President of the United States greenlit something as atrocious as the actions that have taken place over the last several days,” Sanders shot back.

Sanders had opened the press conference by calling the attack on innocent civilians “horrifying” and saying that the images of the aftermath have “shocked the conscience of the entire civilized world.” 

“Sadly, these actions are consistent with Assad’s established pattern of chemical weapons use. His forces are already responsible for previous chemical weapons attacks and other actions targeting civilians,” Sanders continued. She then echoed the President by stating that “Russia and Iran also bear responsibility for these acts, since they would not be possible without their material support.”

“It is also now clear that Russia has betrayed its obligations to guarantee the end of the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons program,” said Sanders, who conveyed that Trump “and his national security team are consulting closely with allies and partners to determine the appropriate response.” 

“As President Trump clearly stated, there will be a price to pay,” the press secretary said before issuing a declaration from the Trump administration, calling on “all members of the international community to share any information related to this attack and to hold the perpetrators and their sponsors accountable.” The administration additionally called on the Syrian regime and Russia “to open the area to international medical assistance and international monitoring.”

Sanders said that the President wants to bring home American troops as they complete the mission to “eradicate ISIS in Syria. At the same time [President Trump] wants to make sure Assad is deterred from chemical weapons attacks on innocent civilians.” 

“Signaling we want to remove our troops in no way degrades our ability to hold parties responsible,” Sander emphasized.

Asked if the President’s comments on Syria could have emboldened Assad in part, Sanders replied, “The only individuals that played a part don’t reside in this country and I think we made very clear who we think is responsible for these attacks.” She added that it was “absolutely ridiculous” to conflate that.

Sanders pointed to Trump’s comments over the weekend and “actions that we’ve taken in the past” as conveying a “very clear message” to Assad.

Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana 

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