Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s visit with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has already raised controversy. Now she’s in hot water yet again for failing to comply with House ethics rules. Gabbard hasn’t yet submitted the required disclosure forms which detail who paid for her trip, and who else she met while she was in Syria.
Gabbard received international attention for urging a political solution in Syria through outreach to Assad, whose government has engaged in mass violence against its own people and a documented regime of torture.
The Hawaii Democrat is required to show, in detail, where the money came from to pay for her trip, but her travel disclosures are missing the document which describes this. Gabbard lists as her sponsor a little-known group called AACCESS-Ohio, which has been in and out of existence since 1991 and does not have a functional webpage; its resources are unclear, at best. If AACCESS-Ohio received money from other sources to pay for her trip to Syria, these documents are supposed to show it.
In the face of criticism for taking the trip to Syria and meeting Assad, Gabbard said that she would be reimbursing AACCESS-Ohio for her trip to Syria last month. But the required forms would indicate if the original plan was to take funds from outside entities.
Her disclosures are also missing the required agenda that would show her schedule during the trip, which would list the various individuals she met while in Syria. Both of these documents were due in December, although Monday was the deadline for publicizing them.
Gabbard’s signature is visible in a section of the forms attesting that all her required forms are filled out, but this is not the case.
During her trip to Syria, Gabbard brought along two men, Elie and Bassam Khawam, affiliated with an anti-Semitic political party that has a history rooted in fascism. The two are officials in the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, which is currently actively engaged in the Syrian civil war on the side of the Assad regime. Until recently, Elie was listed on the SSNP’s website as the “Chief of Cross-Border Affairs.” The two also appear to be part of AACCESS-Ohio; The Guardian previously reported that Bassam Khawam was the executive director of the organization.
“Given that the known sponsor of her trip maintains relationship with the Syrian government and parties involved with the civil war, the taxpayer need assurance that these groups were not involved in financing the trip,” said Evan Barrett, a political adviser to the Coalition for a Democratic Syria, a Syrian-American opposition umbrella group. “She also did not disclose who she met with, which she’s obligated to do. But given that she’s already acknowledged meeting with a war criminal, it’s hard to imagine it getting worse.”
The Assad regime’s military actions have been the primary cause of death during a brutal conflict that will soon enter its seventh year. Assad’s regime has also been involved in bombing civilian populations and the use of chemical weapons. The number of deaths attributed to the war is approaching 500,000—not including the millions of individuals displaced by the conflict.
The human rights group Amnesty International reported Tuesday that the Assad regime has executed up to 13,000 prisoners in mass hangings and carried out systematic torture at a military jail near Damascus—something the Syrian government denies.
The House Ethics Committee has the authority to enforce the House of Representatives’ rules on travel disclosures, and has a variety of tools to press lawmakers to follow them, which include fines, censures or even, in extreme cases, expulsion from the House of Representatives.
However, it would highly unusual for a lawmaker to be punished for not filling out required disclosure forms—since the threat of punishment is usually effective enough to force compliance.
Neither Gabbard’s office nor the ethics committee had any comment Tuesday evening.
Gabbard, once an outspoken supporter of Bernie Sanders, became the first congressional Democrat to meet with Trump after the election. They met at Trump Tower in November to urge that the Assad regimes should remain in place, and argue that any efforts to confront Russia’s military action in Syria could lead to conflict.
“I felt it important to take the opportunity to meet with the President-elect now before the drumbeats of war that neocons have been beating drag us into an escalation of the war to overthrow the Syrian government,” Gabbard said at the time—urging the Trump administration to support the Assad regime’s continuation of power, while saying nothing of the thousands upon thousands that have died from its actions.