Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) on Wednesday discussed with CNN's Jake Tapper her recent secret trip to Syria and said that she met with President Bashar al-Assad.
Gabbard had traveled to Syria on an undisclosed visit earlier this month, which her office later described as a "fact-finding trip," without providing warning to House leadership.
Tapper asked Gabbard in their interview if she met with Assad while in Syria.
"Initially I hadn't planned on meeting him," Gabbard said. "When the opportunity arose to meet with him, I did so because I felt it's important that if we profess to truly care about the Syrian people, about their suffering, then we've got to be able to meet with anyone that we need to if there is a possibility that we could achieve peace. And that's exactly what we talked about."
Assad is widely believed to have used chemical weapons on civilians during the six-year-long Syrian conflict, which has killed about half a million people and displaced millions of others. Syrian regime and Russian forces have reportedly targeted hospitals and other civilian sites in an effort to destroy the opposition fighting against Assad.
The policy of the United States is that Assad cannot remain Syria's leader in the long term, although Gabbard says that the West must work with him.
Tapper mentioned to Gabbard a tweet sent by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R., Ill.) criticizing her "fact-finding mission."
— Adam Kinzinger (@RepKinzinger) January 18, 2017
"Now, Assad has used chemical weapons on his own people," Tapper said. "You said it's going to be up to the Syrian people, but there really aren't free and fair elections in Syria."
Gabbard responded that people she met with in multiple cities under regime control accused the United States of supporting terrorist groups, an assertion the Democratic lawmaker agrees with.
Tapper noted that the U.S. denies this claim and that only moderate, vetted rebel groups receive American assistance. Gabbard said that no person she spoke with said moderate rebels exist and that all of them are under the control of al Qaeda and al Qaeda-affiliated groups.
Gabbard did not respond to Kinzinger labeling Assad a "butcher."
It is unclear who paid for Gabbard's trip to Syria. Shortly after Gabbard's interview with Tapper, Kinzinger tweeted that it would be hard for her to find those who disagreed with the Assad regime if the Syrian government is who paid for her trip. Her office has refused to disclose who paid for it.
— Adam Kinzinger (@RepKinzinger) January 25, 2017
It is also unclear what exactly Gabbard discussed with Assad. The Logan Act prohibits American citizens from negotiating with foreign governments, including unauthorized members of Congress.
Gabbard resigned from her position as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee during the Democratic presidential primary in 2016 to campaign for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), a self-declared socialist.