A tractor removes rubble as the Syrian government starts to clean up areas formerly held by opposition forces in the northern city of Aleppo on December 27, 2016, in the Shaar district.
CNN Exclusive: Rep. Gabbard on meeting with Assad
06:47 - Source: CNN

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A statement from the congresswoman's office released Tuesday night said she would "personally reimburse the cost"

News of Gabbard's secret trip broke in January

Washington CNN  — 

Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard says she will pay out of her own pocket for the cost of her recent heavily criticized trip to Syria.

A statement from the congresswoman’s office released Tuesday night said she would “personally reimburse the cost” despite the fact that the trip met the requirements of the House Ethics Committee.

The trip’s funding was initially not disclosed, but a statement said the Arab American Community Center for Economic and Social Services in Ohio sponsored it.

Since then, the backing from this organization has been put into question and The Atlantic reported the group’s former executive director and board member Bassam Khawam personally paid for it.

“The congresswoman has decided to reimburse … for the trip because it has become a distraction from the important issue at hand – do the American people want their taxpayer dollars to continue to be used in support of militant groups working hand-in-hand with al Qaeda and ISIS in the effort to overthrow the Syrian government?” the statement read.

News of Gabbard’s unannounced trip broke in January. Once she was back in the US, Gabbard confirmed she had met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In addition to the source of the trip’s funding, Gabbard has faced criticism for her meeting with Assad.

Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger blasted Gabbard on Facebook.

“To say I’m disgusted would be an understatement,” Kinzinger wrote. “By meeting with the mass murderer of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, Tulsi Gabbard has legitimized his dictatorship and in turn, legitimized his genocide against the Syrian people - the murdering of 50,000+ innocent children among the nearly half million total slaughtered by his regime.”

“When the opportunity arose to meet with him, I did so because I felt that 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 can achieve peace,” the Hawaiian congresswoman told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Gabbard has been an advocate for keeping Assad in power. Last year, Gabbard told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that she didn’t “think Assad should be removed.”

“If Assad is removed and overthrown, ISIS, al Qaeda, Al Nusra, these Islamic extremist groups will walk straight in and take over all of Syria … they will be even stronger,” Gabbard said.

The congresswoman served two tours in the Middle East as a member of the Army National Guard, according to her website.