President Trump told Fox & Friends on Tuesday that despite earlier denials, he had been all set to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2017 but James Mattis, his defense secretary at the time, “didn’t want to do it.” Political assassinations have been illegal in the U.S. since President Gerald Ford signed Executive Order 11905 in 1976, following revelations of U.S. assassination attempts in Latin America.
A few hours after Trump told Fox & Friends he “would have rather taken [Assad] out,” his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner told Sinclair Broadcasting’s James Rosen that Trump “always keeps all options on the table,” Rosen reported Wednesday. In the interview, he asked Kushner twice if Trump considered assassinating foreign leaders “a legitimate tool of U.S. foreign policy,” and Kushner suggested the answer is yes, even if he preferred not to use the word assassination.
“Different terminology could be used to describe, you know, different methods that you’re going to take to try to retaliate to somebody for an action that they’ve taken,” Kushner said. Trump “knows that it’s a full-contact sport. This is not touch football.”
Executive Order 11905 does not define political assassination, and while Trump opted against assassinating Assad, he did order the killing of a top Iranian general, Qassem Suleimani. The Trump administration used “different terminology” to describe that targeted drone strike, but whether or not it was lawful rests on a disputed technicality.