WASHINGTON — Back from her mysterious trip to Syria during inauguration week, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard confirmed reports Wednesday that she had met with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

In a press release, Gabbard said she went to Syria to “see and hear firsthand the impact of the war in Syria, directly from the Syrian people.”

Gabbard said she had not intended to meet with Assad, but when she had the opportunity, she chose to do so. She provided no details about the meeting.

CNN's Jake Tapper Interviews Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard On Her Syria Visit

Gabbard, a combat veteran who served in Iraq, is a vocal opponent of U.S. intervention in Syria on behalf of rebels fighting Assad, which she has called a “counterproductive regime change war (that) does not serve America’s interest.”

The most unconventional member of Hawaii’s congressional delegation slipped quietly out of town in the days before the presidential inauguration.

Gabbard serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, so her interest in America’s overseas entanglements is part of the job. Many congressional delegates go on fact-finding trips, including to war-torn nations. But few draw so much attention for their comings-and-goings, and few make trips to places that are focal points for global tensions.

Assad has been accused of human rights abuses and murdering dissidents, and is under economic sanctions from both the United States and Europe.

Gabbard has a knack for attracting the spotlight. She drew national headlines during the presidential campaign by resigning her position as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and endorsing Sen. Bernie Sanders, the more progressive rival to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Sanders lost, and Clinton did too, but Gabbard is continuing to operate independently from the Democratic establishment.

Assad has been accused of human rights abuses and murdering dissidents, and is under economic sanctions from both the United States and Europe.

He is opposed by the Islamic State, which is engaged in its own butchery.

Assad operates within a complex political landscape, relying on military assistance from Russia. Amid scenes of grotesque violence, refugees from Syria have poured out of the country to escape the terror, seeking refuge in Europe, the United States and elsewhere.

Former President Barack Obama was a vocal opponent of Assad, called for him to step down, and contemplated sending U.S. troop in to topple his regime.

President Donald Trump has endorsed a more hands-off approach to military intervention in the Middle East, but he is still formulating his foreign policy on many fronts.

Gabbard’s visit to Syria “is rather unusual given our relationship with Syria, but that was under the Obama administration,” said her fellow Hawaii congresswoman, Colleen Hanabusa. Trump, Hanabusa added, may view the situation differently.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard meets with Syrian religious leaders in Aleppo. U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Gabbard wrote in a blog post that she met with many people from all walks of life in Syria, including displaced families, opposition leaders and clerics and leaders throughout the region. She said that they told her that violent jihadists supported by Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf countries are trying to end Syria’s long history of religious tolerance and secularism.

Gabbard garnered applause on her Facebook page for taking the trip. One post about her trip had 1,347 shares within an hour of being posted. A video of Gabbard interacting with Syrian women drew 1,200 views in the first 13 minutes after it appeared on the site. Her followers posted admiring comments about the trip and her bravery and urged her to run for president.

Gabbard visited Trump in New York City during the transition between administrations and said she urged him to avoid military involvement in Syria. She said she feared that defense hawks would push him to escalate U.S. intervention in Syria.

On Jan. 13, she introduced the Stop Arming Terrorists Act, which would prohibit U.S. dollars from being given to terrorist groups that are trying to overthrow Assad.

Then she left on her secret week-long trip, which included a stop in Lebanon. She and her staff initially tried to keep the expedition under wraps, but after rumors of the trip began circulating in Hawaii and on the mainland, they put out a press release saying where she was.

About the Author