October 18, 2019

Van Hollen Joins CNN to Discuss Situation in Syria, Future of Turkey Sanctions Bill

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined CNN’s Kate Bolduan to discuss the situation unfolding in Syria and the future of his bipartisan legislation with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to sanction Turkey if it does not fully withdraw from the areas it has occupied in Syria since October 9, 2019. Senators Van Hollen and Graham introduced their legislation in response to Turkey’s actions against our allies, the Syrian Kurds, which stemmed from President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces. A transcript of the full conversation is available below and video is available here.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN: A bipartisan effort is underway right now to slap new sanctions on Turkey for invading Northern Syria. Joining me now is one of the Senators leading that effort, Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. Senator, thank you for being here.

SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: Kate, good to be with you.

BOLDUAN: What does the ceasefire mean for your sanctions bill?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Kate, this is the second betrayal of our allies, the Syrian Kurds, our allies in the fight against ISIS. The first betrayal was when President Trump withdrew about 100 U.S. Special Forces from that border area and allowed Turkey to attack our allies. Now, Turkey is gloating about this so-called agreement. They’re saying they got everything they wanted. They thought it was going to be a much tougher negotiation. Essentially this agreement would allow them to ethnically cleanse a big swath of northeast Syria where the Syrian Kurds are and will allow the resurgence of ISIS. So, I just got off the phone five minutes ago with Senator Lindsey Graham. We are moving forward full steam ahead with our bipartisan bill that would impose very tough economic sanctions on Turkey until they stop killing the Syrian Kurds, until they stop enabling the return of ISIS and until they and their proxies go back to where they were before…

BOLDUAN: That's an interesting point – it's not just ceasefire and stop. You want them out.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, we want them out. And under this agreement – and let's make it very clear, the Syrian Kurds did not agree to allowing Turkey to come 20 miles into the Syrian Kurdish home area.


VAN HOLLEN: And so this is never going to work. And that is why we're going to continue to push forward. This is a recipe for reigniting ISIS in that area and around the world. And so we're going full steam ahead with the sanctions proposal.

BOLDUAN: You mentioned Senator Lindsey Graham who’s cosponsoring this with you. He has been complimentary of this ceasefire – what they say is a ceasefire – in his public statements. And up until this point we know he has been a staunch ally of the President. Do you trust that Graham is going to stick with you on this and push this bill over the line? Because one can safely assume that the White House is not looking to have to deal with your sanctions bill landing on the President's desk right now.

VAN HOLLEN: Well, what I trust is that Republican Senators like Mitt Romney, who you just heard, like Lindsey Graham, are furious about the President's betrayal of our Syrian Kurdish allies. Who at a time when Turkey was allowing ISIS fighters to transit its territory many years ago and allowed ISIS to grow in strength, it was the Syrian Kurds who joined us in the fight. So they're furious about this just as military leaders are. We just heard the former head of American Special Forces in the region, Admiral McRaven, say that this was a total betrayal. So, I do believe that on this issue you have Republicans also up in arms against what the President has done because it's a betrayal of our allies and because they recognize the President is adding fuel to the resurgence of ISIS terrorists.

BOLDUAN: Can I ask you on another topic, Senator, the acting Chief of Staff yesterday stood in the White House briefing room, admitted of a White House quid pro quo when it came to military aid and Ukraine. He now says that the media is misconstruing his words. I don't even – let's play it again because that's what he’s alleging, and I want to make sure we play it very clearly.

[Begin Press Conference Audio]

JONATHAN KARL: Let's be clear what you just described is a quid pro quo. It is: funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happened as well.

MICK MULVANEY: We do – we do that all the time with foreign policy.

[End Press Conference Audio]

BOLDUAN: What he says there means what to you?

VAN HOLLEN: Well, Mick Mulvaney just confirmed what all the evidence is now pointing to. That not only did President Trump use the power and prestige of the Oval Office to try to get the Ukrainians to interfere in our elections, but that they withheld U.S. Military assistance to the Ukraine – which is so important to Ukraine to deter Russian aggression – they use that in order to get to try to get Ukraine to cooperate on political schemes by the President.

BOLDUAN: Senator, is there a difference in your mind – is there a difference in your mind on a quid pro quo on investigating Joe Biden and quid pro quo about investigating conspiracy theories about Democrats in the 2016 election?

VAN HOLLEN: In my view, this is all about trying to get Ukraine to conspire with the President to interfere in our next elections in any way. And in my view, I think the evidence will eventually show – and I think already it is showing – that in addition to withholding arms to the Ukraine with respect to the 2016 server, the same was true with respect to trying to hunt down and dig up dirt on Joe Biden's son – and also withhold the meeting in the Oval Office. Look, what President Trump did is pushed aside our professional, non-partisan career diplomats – substituted them with Giuliani and his political appointees to try to get Ukraine to do its political dirty work. And now we now know a quid pro quo was also involved – withholding taxpayer dollars, money and defense and arms for Ukraine in order to get that done. That is a gross abuse of power.

BOLDUAN: One final question on Syria. You have the sanctions bill. Your sanctions bill is against Turkey of course. There is another serious sanctions bill that is sitting, waiting for action – has been in the Senate for quite some time. This one targets Assad. It's the Caesar Sanctions bill. We’ve covered the story of Caesar extensively on this show. With renewed focus on Syria, do you see hope for that bill in this moment?

VAN HOLLEN: I would hope so. I would hope we can move forward on that piece of legislation as well as the sanctions on Turkey for slaughtering our Syrian Kurdish allies. So I think this is a moment we all need to come together. With respect to the ceasefire – as you indicated – there are already reports that the cease-fire is falling apart. There are reports this morning that the Turkish-backed forces are using white phosphorus against the Syrian Kurds. So we really need Congress to act quickly. You played a segment of the President talking about this being like two school kids in the schoolyard. That is a total, total abdication of American responsibility to stand with our Kurdish allies and stop the resurgence of ISIS.

BOLDUAN: Senator, we will be following the progress of the sanctions bill closely. Thanks for coming on.

VAN HOLLEN: Thank you. Thanks, Kate.