Politics

Trump Warns Russia Missile Strikes ‘Coming’ After Syria Chemical Attack

Mueller is 'most conflicted of all,' president tweets, 'except Rosenstein'

The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Ross fires a Tomahawk land attack missile while conducting operations in the Mediterranean Sea last year. (Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert S. Price/U.S. Navy file photo)

Updated at 9:36 a.m. | President Donald Trump on Wednesday signaled his coming response to the Syrian government’s recent chemical weapons attack, tweeting his intention to launch a missile strike. He also again lashed out at the Justice Department's Russia probe.

Trump later fired off other tweets lamenting souring U.S.-Russia relations, using one to blame “bad blood” with the Russian government on what he dubbed the “Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation” being led by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III. And he went right after the deputy attorney general who legal experts say is standing between a frustrated president and pushing out or clamping down on Mueller.

Despite the probe being led by lifelong Republicans, Trump tweeted it is being “headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama.”

He called the former FBI director - who was picked to lead the Bureau by GOP President George W. Bush - the “most conflicted of all (except Rosenstein who signed FISA & Comey letter). No Collusion, so they go crazy!” He was referring to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, going directly at him less than 24 hours after reports he is considering firing Rosenstein.

The deputy AG is overseeing Mueller’s probe and many legal experts say only he has the clear legal authority to fire a special counsel - but White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday that “we’ve been advised that the president certainly has the power to make that decision.”

The commander in chief responded to a Russian vow to shoot down any incoming munitions in Syria, tweeting: “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’” (The latter was an apparent reference to technology installed in American weapons to make them more precise.)

The tweet marked two curious departures for Trump: He has long said he will not telegraph his military actions, and he has rarely publicly criticized or taunted the Russian government and its president, Vladimir Putin, amid the ongoing special counsel probe of Russian election meddling and possible Trump campaign collusion with Russians.

[Dems See ‘Unhinged’ Trump, GOP Split After Mueller Rant]

The U.S. president had a message for Putin, though he did not call him out by name: “You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!”

Trump was responding to a threat from Alexander Zasypkin, the Kremlin’s ambassador to Lebanon.

Watch: Trump Furor Over Russia Probe Could Blunt Bipartisan Push to Punish Assad

“If there is a strike by the Americans, then ... the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” he told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV Tuesday night, according to Reuters. Zasypkin was referring to U.S. cruise missiles and the Navy ships from which they would be fired like the 59 Tomahawk missiles that Trump ordered fired at Syrian government targets after a chemical attack last spring.

Russia did not intercept any of those missiles, though experts and lawmakers say that attack did little to change Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s behavior.

Trump described the United States’ relationship with Russia as “worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War.” He urged the Kremlin to allow the U.S. to “help with their economy” before suggesting the two countries are engaged in an arms race. (Trump recently signed an omnibus appropriations bill that included a significant increase in defense spending. He also frequently boasts that his administration is rebuilding the U.S. military, and says no foe will defeat it under his command.)

Trump and lawmakers have said Assad — and his Russian and Iranian backers — must “pay a price” for the weekend chemical attack on a rebel-held Damascus suburb that killed nearly 50 people, including children, and injured dozens more.

Before Trump’s Wednesday morning vow to strike Assad’s government, his senior aides were sticking by his approach of holding his military plans close to the vest.

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday would say very little about the president’s plans.

Trump and other White House officials have had discussions with senior officials from France and the United Kingdom about a potential multi-country response to the apparent Syrian chemical weapons attack, she told reporters.

[Report: Trump Considering Firing Rosenstein]

“We’ve had a number of conversations, both the President with [French] President [Emmanuel] Macron and [British] Prime Minister [Theresa] May, and at various other levels — not just with those countries, but others, at an administration level,” Sanders said. “And we’re going to continue to work with a number of our partners and allies as we determine what the next best steps are.”

Republican lawmakers are more vocal than Democrats in calling on the president to use U.S. military force to punish Assad and try to change his calculus. But members of both parties say Trump’s disinterest in helping find a solution to the years-long conflict there emboldened Assad to use chemical weapons just days after the president expressed his desire to withdraw all American military troops now operating on Syrian soil and let other parties work on a conflict-ending pact.

“President Trump needs to finally lay out a Syria strategy and come to Congress for approval if he wants to initiate military action,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Tim Kaine, D-Va. “He’s a president, not a king, and Congress needs to quit giving him a blank check to wage war against anyone, anywhere. If he strikes Syria without our approval, what will stop him from bombing North Korea or Iran?”

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