CNN's Chris Cuomo became the latest interviewer to ask anti-war candidate Tulsi Gabbard to denounce Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad on Thursday night, spending an entire one-on-one interview asking the Democratic presidential candidate follow-up questions about her 2017 trip to Syria and her opposition to U.S. involvement in the Syrian War.
"II want to clear something up," Cuomo said at the top of the interview. "You need to acknowledge that Bashar al-Assad is a murderous despot and you can still make your argument that the United States has no business risking blood and treasure in places where it should not be. I don't understand why you didn't give that answer."
FLASHBACK, JAN 2017: Tulsi Gabbard Discusses Meeting Bashar al-Assad: Syrians Beg U.S. Not To Support "So-Called Rebel Groups" And Terrorists
Sen. Kamala Harris brought up accusations that Gabbard is too soft on Assad during an interview after Wednesday's presidential debate, sidestepping concerns about her record as a prosecutor: Kamala Harris: I Don't Take "Assad Apologist" Tulsi Gabbard's Opinions Seriously
Cuomo again asked: "You don't need to defend him to make your argument, I don't understand why you do."
"I've never defended Assad," Gabbard told CNN Thursday night.
"The only response that I've heard her and her campaign give is to push out smear attacks on me," Gabbard said about Harris's campaign. "Claim that I am somehow some kind of foreign agent or a traitor to my country, the country that I love, the country that I put my life on the line to serve, the country that I still serve today as a soldier in the Army National Guard."
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN: But I want to clear something up, you need to acknowledge that Bashar al-Assad is a murderous despot and you can still make your argument that the United States has no business risking blood and treasure in places where it should not be. I don't understand why you didn't give that answer last night.
REP. TULSI GABBARD: Well, first of all, let's talk about what you're addressing here, and I don't dispute anything that you're saying there. He's a brutal dictator, just like Saddam Hussein, just like Gaddafi in Libya. The reason that I'm so outspoken on this issue of ending these wasteful regime-change wars is because I have seen firsthand this high human cost of war and the impact that it has on my fellow brothers and sisters in uniform.
You know, Chris, I respect you, because you've spent a lot of time throughout your career shining a light on the challenges that veterans face when they come home. I will do anything and everything that I possibly can to stop sending our men and women in uniform into harm's way, fighting in these wasteful, counterproductive wars.
CUOMO: The notion deserves nothing but respect, Congresswoman - deserves nothing but respect. I'm not disputing that. I think it's a legitimate claim.
GABBARD: Even if--
CUOMO: But here's what I'm asking--
GABBARD: Even if--
CUOMO: You put yourself in a hole though Congresswoman--
GABBARD: Let me just finish. Let me finish.
CUOMO: Go ahead finish your point please.
GABBARD: Let me finish this point.
GABBARD: --because it's central to the question that you're asking. I will never apologize to anyone for doing all that I can to prevent more of my brothers and sisters in uniform from being sent into harm's way to fight in these wasteful counterproductive regime-change wars, even if it means meeting with a brutal dictator, focused on that objective.
Keeping the American people safe, making sure my brothers and sisters in uniform are honored by only being sent on missions that are worthy of their sacrifice. And making it so that we stop wasting trillions of our taxpayer dollars on more of these wasteful wars when they are so needed right here at home to address the essential and urgent needs of people in our communities. People like those here in Detroit.
CUOMO: I take issue with none of that - none of it do not make any other assumption about anything. I'm talking about one specific thing. All of that is completely valid and does not need any benefit to Bashar al-Assad.
On your website, I don't understand why you have information on there that questions the notion that Assad is responsible for things that the U.S. Intel and the United Nations Intel believe he's responsible for.
You don't need to defend him to make your argument, I don't understand why you do.
GABBARD: I've never defended - I've never defended Assad.
CUOMO: The stuff on the website questions legitimacy of his connection to the attacks.
GABBARD: What you are referring to are cynicism as skepticism that I have expressed, because I've served in a war that was caused by people who lied to us.
GABBARD: Who lied to the American people.
GABBARD: Who presented false evidence that members of Congress and U.S. Senators believed and voted for a war that resulted in the loss of lives of over 4,000 of my brothers and sisters in uniform.
The very first thing I did every single day when I served in Iraq in that field medical unit during the height of that war in 2005 was go through a list name by name of every American casualty and injury that had occurred in the previous 24 hours.
I know the cost of war in a way that none of those other people on that stage last night can understand. So, yes, I will always ask the tough questions. I will ask for the evidence and as we're seeing evidences is constantly coming through.
It's our responsibility as lawmakers and as leaders in this country, to make sure that our U.S. military is not being activated and deployed to go to war unless we are certain, A, that it serves the best interests of the American people; and B, that that action will actually have a positive impact.
CUOMO: True. That's why we all here on this show all the time--
GABBARD: The questions I'm raising are based on this experience that I've had.
CUOMO: I hear you.
GABBARD: --of making sure that we are doing the right thing.
CUOMO: I would argue that what's on the website isn't just raising questions, it's speculating in a way that isn't based by fact, but we've discussed that. And I don't want to spend all the time on it. And we argue on this show all the time that Congress needs to have--
GABBARD: Well, let me just point at two quick things.
CUOMO: --more power on military action not less.
GABBARD: Let me just point at two quick things on that.
CUOMO: Go ahead.
GABBARD: Can I point you to two quick things on that?
GABBARD: There was a report that was recently sent out from the OPCW, the UN's organization responsible for investigating incidents of chemical weapons attacks that brings into light a lot of different evidence that wasn't previously reported.
And secondly, there's a professor from MIT who has also been an expert in missile attacks and chemical weapons, who's also shed a lot of light on this.
CUOMO: Well, they've raised some portions about what are the dynamic--
GABBARD: What I'm saying is we got to examine all of the evidence--
CUOMO: --is there. Nobody's exonerating Assad. Let me ask you something else Congresswoman. Why do you think Senator Harris didn't have specific responses for you last night? And what do you think last night means to you going forward?
GABBARD: That's a great question that I wish someone would ask Senator Harris--
CUOMO: If she's comes on the show I will ask her, I promise, Congresswoman. As soon as she is here it will be first thing out of my mouth.
GABBARD: I believe that you will, because she didn't give any answers, not just to me, but to the American people last night on that debate stage. And in the interviews that she had after the debate she again refused to address this record that she had as Attorney General that she claims to be so proud of.
A lot of concerns and a lot of issues raised there. This isn't personal it's really about making sure that the American people have the truth, because that's what this process is all about. It's about understanding how critical the decision is that's before us and the kind of leadership that we seek to bring.
CUOMO: Do you think she has good answers to those questions?
GABBARD: If she has she's failed to present them. I think, the fact that the answer she's chosen to give has nothing to do with - she will not address the concerns raised regarding her record that she's said she's proud of. Frankly, that has caused more harm and more pain and suffering to people in California during that time.
And how instead of using her position of power to be that force for positive change, to be a champion for the people that she claims to be, instead she used it to further oppress people in an already broken criminal justice system.
And the only response that I've heard her and her campaign give is to push out smear attacks on me. Claim that I am somehow some kind of foreign agent or a traitor to my country, the country that I love, the country that I put my life on the line to serve, the country that I still serve today as a soldier in the Army National Guard.
CUOMO: I have seen what's out there and what propaganda is being put out about what connections and who likes you who's trying to help you. I don't give it any attention on the show, because I don't think it warrants it. But I will fight you on the facts and the invitation always stands - and please know this before anything else, this show thanks you for your service. We know what it means--
GABBARD: I appreciate that.
CUOMO: I know I didn't have it in me to do what you did, and I appreciate it and I respect it. And I respect your devotions to the others who are in uniform, so thank you Congresswoman I look forward to seeing you again.