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President Donald Trump repeatedly claimed last week that he ordered a drone strike against Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, because there was an “imminent threat” to at least one and as many as four US embassies.
Trump’s statements have already fallen apart based on media reporting and contradictory statements from his own officials.
On Monday, CNN reported that the State Department was not told of any imminent threats to four US embassies, blowing another hole through Trump’s claims.
It’s highly unusual for the State Department to not be made aware of such a matter, given the direct threat it would pose to US personnel abroad.
According to CNN, the department sent a global warning to all US embassies before the Soleimani strike occurred but it was not directed at specific embassies and did not warn of an imminent attack.
“Soleimani was actively planning new attacks, and he was looking very seriously at our embassies, and not just the embassy in Baghdad,” Trump said on Thursday night at a rally in Ohio. “But we stopped him, and we stopped him quickly, and we stopped him cold.”
On Friday, according to CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Fox News aired a clip in which Trump told host Laura Ingraham that four embassies were involved in the plot, though he didn’t specify which ones.
But questions were raised almost immediately after Trump made those claims.
Several lawmakers wondered why, if there was an imminent threat to US embassies, they weren’t notified of it during a Senate briefing on the strike last week.
Trump’s came under harsher scrutiny over the weekend, after Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who receives the same intelligence briefing as the president — known as the Presidential Daily Brief — told CBS News he “didn’t see” specific intelligence showing Iran was planning to target four US embassies before Soleimani was killed.
“What the President said was he believed it probably could have been. He didn’t cite intelligence,” Esper said.
Trump weighed in on the discrepancies Monday, tweeting, “The Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners are working hard to determine whether or not the future attack by terrorist Soleimani was ‘imminent’ or not, & was my team in agreement. The answer to both is a strong YES., but it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!”
Soleimani’s assassination kicked off a series of escalatory actions from both Washington and the Iranian capital of Tehran that simmered down last week after Iran fired several missiles at US bases in Iraq that resulted in no American casualties. Trump subsequently announced that “all is well” and that the conflict had been de-escalated.
The president’s actions also invited harsh blowback from Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans who expressed concern that Congress had not been consulted or notified before the drone strike.
The House of Representatives subsequently passed a war-powers resolution on Thursday that would drastically curtail the president’s ability to take further military action against Iran. It passed on a largely party-line vote, though eight Democrats voted against it, and three Republicans voted in favor of it.
Since the strike was first announced, questions have swirled about how robust the underlying intelligence supporting the strike was and whether Soleimani really did pose an “imminent threat,” as Trump and his deputies have said.
Last Tuesday, Esper was asked whether the Iranian attacks against US personnel were days or weeks away before Soleimani’s death.
“I think it’s more fair to say days, for sure,” Esper said.
But several Democratic and Republican lawmakers expressed dissatisfaction with the administration’s briefings on the strike against Soleimani, who was Iran’s most powerful military official and a widely revered figure within the nation.
Asked if she was convinced that there was evidence that Soleimani was planning an “imminent” attack on US personnel, as the administration has said, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts replied, “No” but said she could not elaborate further.
Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal echoed that, saying, “There was no raw evidence presented that this was an imminent threat.”
Additional reporting from The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi indicated that the underlying intelligence for the strike was “razor thin.”
Callimachi reported that one source told her there wasn’t evidence of an “imminent” attack on US interests that could kill hundreds, as the White House has said. “The official describes the reading of the intelligence as an illogical leap,” she wrote on Twitter.
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