MINNEAPOLIS — Joseph Schmitz, Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisor, is facing criticism for his involvement in a plot to arm Syrian rebels with close ties to al-Qaida.
The Republican nominee’s ties to Schmitz, whose reputation is also colored by his links to Blackwater mercenaries and corruption at the Department of Defense, seems poised to become the latest black mark against Trump’s reputation in a campaign full of questionable choices.
Although Trump has claimed that President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton were responsible for the rise of Daesh (an Arabic acronym for the terrorist group commonly known in the West as ISIS or ISIL), Schmitz’s presence in Team Trump ties that campaign to terrorists, too.
“Trump’s own top foreign policy adviser, Joseph Schmitz, teamed up with a Saudi prince in a bizarre and illegal private initiative to arm rebels in Syria in 2013,” wrote Brad Hoff in an Aug. 12 report for The Canary.
In May 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported that Schmitz, at the time an executive at private military firm Blackwater Worldwide (since renamed Academi), had teamed up with an unnamed Saudi prince in the summer of 2013 in an effort to move 70,000 Russian assault rifles and 21 million rounds of ammunition from Ukraine to Syria, where it would be supplied to so-called “moderate” rebels in the Free Syrian Army.
“He told the Free Syrian Army’s leader at the time, Gen. Salim Idris, that his group had immediate access to a large supply of assault rifles in Ukraine and tons of ammunition in another Eastern European country,” wrote Dion Nissenbaum, a national security reporter for the Journal.
Close allies of Idris openly bragged about the FSA’s ties to Daesh, and the general himself was later accused of allowing a warehouse full of weapons supplied by the West to fall into the hands of the Nusra Front (Jabhat al-Nusra), the former branch of al-Qaida based in Syria that’s now known as the Front for the Conquest of Syria (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham).
Hoff noted: “Schmitz described Idris to the WSJ as a ‘moderate freedom fighter,’ in spite of the fact that at the very time the plan was in motion, right-wing media was screaming about Idris’ multiple public statements suggesting an ambiguous battlefield partnership with al-Qaida.”
According to the Journal, Schmitz’s plan collapsed after a CIA operative approached him in Jordan and told him to “put the brakes on the plan.”
Prior to working with Blackwater, Schmitz served as the Inspector General at the Department of Defense, a role meant to serve as one of the main checks against fraud and waste in the military. But in September 2005, just over three years after taking office, Schmitz resigned in disgrace amid accusations that he’d helped shield key officials in the Bush administration from prosecution, and that he accepted improper gifts as bribes.
According to a September 2005 report from Los Angeles Times staff writer T. Christian Miller, Schmitz resigned after “Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) sent Schmitz several letters this summer informing him that he was the focus of a congressional inquiry into whether he had blocked two criminal investigations last year.”
Grassley, who was the chair of the Senate Finance Committee at the time, also “accused Schmitz of fabricating an official Pentagon news release, planning an expensive junket to Germany and hiding information from Congress.”
Those weren’t the only accusations of corruption leveled against Schmitz, either. “In May 2006, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a nonpartisan watchdog in Washington, D.C., noted that Schmitz ‘resigned under a cloud of allegations that he had allowed inappropriate political interference in a Boeing tanker lease investigation by the White House, as well as other politically sensitive investigations,’” Newsweek’s Jeff Stein reported in March.
“As Trump continues to rail against perceived secret support of the Muslim Brotherhood and supposed jihadist sympathizers within American political ranks, he should look no further than his own foreign policy adviser,” Hoff concluded.