White House Press Secretary refuses to say Trump thinks Assad is a 'war criminal'


The messages from Donald Trump's White House continue to disturb, as White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer refused to say that Trump views Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as a "war criminal," even when he was given two opportunities to do so.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer vividly illustrated the Trump administration's confused messaging over Russia and Syria when, moments after declaring Russia an "ally" of the United States, he twice refused to say that Donald Trump views Bashar al-Assad as a "war criminal."

When the question was put to Spicer at the daily press briefing, he skirted the issue — upon which Trump's entire rationale for the Syria strike is predicated — and when asked again, Spicer indicated that that is not a judgment for Trump to make:

REPORTER: Does the president consider Assad a war criminal and does he believe Assad should eventually appear before the ICC?

SPICER: I think right now the focus is two-fold. One is defeating ISIS and the second is creating a political environment necessary for the Syrian people to have a new leadership there. I don't think that there's — I can't imagine a stable and peaceful Syria where Bassa al Ashar (sic) is in power. I think we all recognize that that happens and there can be a multi-pronged approach, where you're ensuring that ISIS is contained and there's a deescalation of the proliferation of chemical weapons, at the same time creating the environment for a change in leadership.

REPORTER: Does the president believe Assad has committed war crimes?

SPICER: I don't — I think that there is a court that decides those things, and obviously there's a reason, that — while I clearly — the actions, when you take an action against the people that he has, and I think we feel unbelievably confident in the intelligence that we have, but again, that would be something for a court to decide.

The moment was reminiscent of now-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's confirmation hearing, at which Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) roasted Tillerson for refusing to call Putin a war criminal.

As for Assad, Trump's own UN ambassador has called him a war criminal, as has Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), among others. Trump, apparently, is not quite there yet.