President Trump on Monday said it didn’t matter if Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani posed an imminent threat to the United States because of his “horrible past.”
Trump also asserted that his national security team agreed on the imminent threat posed by Soleimani that led to the decision to kill him. He made this assertion despite remarks from Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday that undercut Trump’s claim that the Iranian general was planning to target four American embassies before a U.S. drone strike killed him in Baghdad on Jan. 3.
“The Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners are working hard to determine whether or not the future attack by terrorist Soleimani was ‘eminent’ or not, & was my team in agreement,” Trump tweeted Monday morning, incorrectly spelling imminent.
“The answer to both is a strong YES., but it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!” the president continued.
Trump later accused the media and Democrats of “trying to make terrorist Soleimani into a wonderful guy, only because I did what should have been done for 20 years.”
Trump’s tweets marked an effort to defend the decision to strike Soleimani — who commanded Iran’s Quds Force, a designated terrorist organization — after days of scrutiny about the intelligence underlying the decision to authorize the strike against him.
Trump administration officials have described the strike against Soleimani as a defensive measure aimed at preventing imminent attacks orchestrated by Iran that threatened American lives.
But officials have remained close-lipped about the details of the alleged plots, and congressional lawmakers — most of them Democrats — have complained about the insufficiency of classified briefings on the intelligence that led up to the decision.
Officials have also cited Iran’s recent escalations — including a rocket attack that killed an American contractor in Iraq — in defending the strike against the Iranian general.
Trump has decried Soleimani as a “sadistic mass murderer” with American blood on his hands, saying at a campaign rally in Ohio last week that the drone strike that targeted the general was an effort to deliver justice to Americans. Soleimani has been blamed for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. troops in the Middle East over the years.
“Last week, the United States once again took the bold and decisive action to save American lives and deliver American justice,” Trump told a crowd of supporters in Toledo on Thursday evening.
Trump also suggested at the rally that Soleimani had planned to attack U.S. embassies, later telling Fox News host Laura Ingraham that he believed four embassies were being targeted by Iran, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Esper, however, said Sunday that he did not see specific intelligence indicating Iran was preparing to attack four U.S. embassies.
“I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies,” Esper said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Esper said that he shared Trump’s view that “probably — my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies. The embassies are the most prominent display of American presence in a country.”
Democratic lawmakers have said they were not told during last week’s briefing on the Soleimani strike that the general was targeting four U.S. embassies, casting further doubt on the president’s claim.
Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, largely side-stepped the president’s specific claims when asked about them on “Fox News Sunday,” but insisted there was a threat to “American facilities in the region.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also defended the decision to authorize the strike, saying on Friday the intelligence suggested Soleimani was planning a “large-scale” attack that threatened American facilities including embassies.
Still, he said the Trump administration did not know precisely when or where the attack would occur.
“We would have been culpably negligent had we not recommended to the president that he take this action against Soleimani,” Pompeo told reporters at the White House. “He made the right call and America is safer as a result of that.”
The administration’s handling of the Soleimani strike has led to distrust among Democrats and some Republicans and renewed debate over presidential war powers. The House last week passed a measure that would rein in Trump’s ability to carry out military action against Iran.
Updated at 11:46 a.m.