Wednesday, June 15, 2011

White House: Fund Rebels with Gadhafi Assets

Updated at 7 p.m. edt

The U.S. has spent $715 million in existing Pentagon funds through June 3 on the Libya mission, the Obama administration said in a dispatch to Congress today.

There are no plans to ask Congress for any special supplemental appropriation for the NATO-led campaign.

Meanwhile, the memo prepared with the help of the Pentagon and State Department confirmed what senior administration officials said earlier: That the Obama administration is complying with the War Powers Resolution and has stepped as part of an international coalition to stop a humanitarian crisis created by Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

"Given the important U.S. interests served by U.S. military operations in Libya and the limited nature, scope and duration of the anticipated actions, the President had constitutional authority, as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive and pursuant to his foreign affairs powers, to direct such limited military operations abroad," the memorandum to Congress states.

"The President is of the view that the current U.S. military operations in Libya are consistent with the War Powers Resolution and do not under that law require further congressional authorization, because U.S. military operations are distinct from the kind of 'hostilities' contemplated by the Resolution’s 60 day termination provision," the administration added in the memo.

End update

The Obama administration is working with members of Congress to try to come up with a way to hand the Libyan rebel's governing council some of the estimated $30 billion in assets seized from Moammar Gadhafi by the U.S. Treasury, administration officials said today.

The administration "would take some of those resources" and put it in the hands of the cash-poor, but eventually oil-rich Libyan Transitional National Council, arguing that those billions belong to the Libyan people, a senior administration said.

"We're actively working closely with Congress on that," the official said.

There is already a move in the Senate gaining steam to use Gadhafi's loot to pay for humanitarian aide in Libya.

The White House said it and European and Arab allies are highly confident that the TNC is a pro-democracy government-in-waiting that is opposed to extremist militant Islamists, like Al Qaeda, dismissing politically charged claims from presidential candidates like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

The White House indicated the rebels are constantly vetted and questioned by the alliance members, including by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. envoy in the de facto opposition capital Benghazi.

"We are very familiar with the opposition group," the official said. "It has made positive statements about its commitment to democracy."

The disclosure came as President Obama sent an update on the air war in Libya that some in Congress have demanded.

"This operation has achieved a good deal in just over two months," a senior administration said. "We see cracks in the regime."

The White House also made a spirited defense of its handling of the the military response to the humanitarian crisis, saying it has upheld the War Powers Resolution and will not have to ask Congress for any additional money to pay for the campaign.

There are no boots on the ground, the U.S. stepped in to prevent a further humanitarian crisis and more killings under Gadhafi's orders, and it is a support roll only for the American military, the White House will argue in a report expected to be released shortly.

"We are providing a support role," the official said, noting the White House has provided Congress with regular updates in private briefings and testimony at hearings. "We have not asked Congress for a supplemental (funding)... and have no plans to," the official said.

In a sign that there is no real threat that Congress has the will to wend the U.S. role in Libya, some conservatives like Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) and ultra liberals like Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) instead turned to the courts today, suing the Obama administration in federal court today. They argued the Executive Branch is usurping the constitutionality backed War Powers Resolution of 1973.

“With regard to the war in Libya, we believe that the law was violated. We have asked the courts to move to protect the American people from the results of these illegal policies,” said Kucinich.

White House aides were confident it would counter the charges in the courts, stopping short of calling it a frivolous lawsuit.

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