Kerry: Obama Administration Listening to 'Good Lawyers' Rather Than Congress

By Susan Jones | September 18, 2014 | 7:18 AM EDT

Secretary of State John Kerry testifies on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014, during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the US strategy to defeat ISIS/ISIL. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(CNSNews.com) - Instead of asking Congress for new authority to go after terrorists in Syria and Iraq, the Obama administration is turning to "good lawyers within the White House, within the State Department," Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday.

How is it that the Obama administration thinks it can rely on a 2001 authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) to go into Syria and Iraq 13 years later, Sen. Robert Mendendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked Kerry at a hearing on Wednesday.

Kerry responded that "good lawyers" at the White House and State Department have concluded that the 2001 AUMF is sufficient because it "includes...al-Qaeda and associated forces."



And while Congress is welcome to endorse the administration's plan to defeat ISIS/ISIL, "we're not going to make our actions dependent on it happening," Kerry said.

"I appreciate your ability as a former prosecutor and a gifted attorney to try to make the case," Menendez told Kerry. "I will tell you that, at least from the chair's perspective, you're going to need a new AUMF."

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told Kerry he was "exercising terrible judgment."

"And to say that you're going to do this regardless of what we say, you're not going to ask for buy-in by the United States Senate or House of Representatives on behalf of the American people in a conflict that you say is going to be multi-year -- some people say a decade -- taking us into another country with a different enemy -- is exercising the worst judgment possible.

"And so I've said to this to you as strongly as I can personally. That's in essence what you're saying to the chairman right now -- saying if Congress wants to play a constructive role, we would welcome that -- to me, is a political game."

Here's a transcript of the exchange:

Menendez: How is it that...the administration believes that the 9/11 AUMF or the Iraq AUMF provide the authorization to move forward, whether the Congress decides to or not...?

Kerry: Mr. Chairman, how is it? It is because good lawyers within the White House, within the State Department, who have examined this extremely closely, have come to the conclusion across the board that the 2001 AUMF, which says all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons responsible for 9/11, those who harbored such organizations or persons, to prevent future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such persons or organizations.

It includes al Qaeda. It's always been interpreted as including al Qaeda and al Qaeda -- al Qaeda and associated forces. That is the language, al Qaeda and associated forces. Now, al Qaeda -- ISIL began as al Qaeda."

In 2005 in Iraq, 2004, ISIL was al Qaeda in Iraq. And it only became this thing called ISIL a year ago. And it only became that out of convenience to separate themselves in an internal fight, but not because their thinking changed, not because their targets changed, not because their actions changed.

(Kerry said ISIL's name change was a "mere publicity stunt," but calling itself something else "does not get you out from under the force of the United States law.")

Menendez: I appreciate your ability as a former prosecutor and a gifted attorney to try to make the case. I will tell you that, at least from the chair's perspective, you're going to need a new AUMF. And it will have to be more tailored because I don't want to be part of 13 years later and multitude of countries that have been used in this regard for that to be the authority.

And I think our goals are the same. I think we need to get you a different set of authority. And I look forward to working with my colleague.

Kerry: Not only are our goals the same, Mr. Chairman, but we know you are thinking about retooling the AUMF. And we welcome, we would like Congress, please, do this. We want that to happen. We're not going to make our actions dependent on it happening, but we will work with you as close as we can and should in order to tailor an AUMF going forward and we look forward to that opportunity.

Menendez: Senator Corker.

Corker: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just want to say, as I've said to you, personally, we have three senators, president, vice president, secretary of state that are exercising terrible judgment right now.

And to say that you're going to do this regardless of what we say, you're not going to ask for buy-in by the United States Senate or House of Representatives on behalf of the American people in a conflict that you say is going to be multi-year -- some people say a decade -- taking us into another country with a different enemy is exercising the worst judgment possible.

And so I've said to this to you as strongly as I can personally. That's in essence what you're saying to the chairman right now, saying if Congress wants to play a constructive role, we would welcome that -- to me, is a political game.

And I'm disappointed that you as secretary of state, after being chairman of this committee, after espousing the views that you have espoused in the past, out of convenience in parsing legal words, would make the statement you just made....

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