- Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said he “didn’t see” specific evidence that Soleimani was planning attacks on four US embassies, as President Donald Trump has claimed.
- Esper said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he “shared” the view that there was an existing threat against US embassies, as they represent “the most prominent display of American presence in a country.”
- Trump made the “four embassies” claim as he was experiencing increasing pressure from Democratic and Republican congressional lawmakers who have pressed for further evidence into the administration’s thinking behind the attack.
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Secretary of Defense Mark Esper doubled down on President Donald Trump’s claim of an imminent threat on multiple embassies that reportedly informed his decision to order the killing of former Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
Esper said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that he “didn’t see” specific evidence that Soleimani was planning attacks on four US embassies, as Trump told Fox News in an interview Friday, but did believe there was a possibility for such attacks.
“What the president said was he believed that it probably and could’ve been attacks against additional embassies,” Esper told host Margaret Brennan. “I shared that view. I know other members of the national security team shared that view. That’s why I deployed thousands of American paratroopers to the Middle East to reinforce our embassy in Baghdad and other sites throughout the region.”
Brennan pressed Esper, saying that it sounded more like “an assessment than a specific, tangible threat.”
“The president didn’t cite a specific piece of evidence, what he said was he believed,” Esper said. “I didn’t see one, with regard to four embassies. What I’m saying is that I shared the president’s view that my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies.”
The significance of a foreign attack on a US embassy is that “the embassy is the most prominent display of American presence in a country,” Esper said.
The administration has rallied behind Trump’s decision to order the strike, despite reports that he shocked his top advisers who also presented other possible plans to address a recent wave of bloody conflicts in the region.
Esper echoed that US intelligence had shown a threat to the embassies while speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien lauded the US’ “exquisite intelligence” that informed the mission.
Trump made the “four embassies” claim as he was experiencing increasing pressure from Democratic and Republican congressional lawmakers who have pressed for further explanation and evidence into the administration’s thinking behind the attack.
Nearly a week after the successful airstrike killed Soleimani, Democrat-controlled House approved a war-powers resolution to limit Trump’s ability to launch new military actions against Iran without congressional approval.
Esper also responded to concerns voiced by Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky, saying that they should resist stoking “debate” over further military action after they were briefed on the successful killing.
“For every member that didn’t like the brief, there were members who thought it was the greatest brief ever,” he said. “That was never said, that they should not have debate, that they should not have a discussion.”
NEWS: @EsperDod tells @margbrennan he "didn't see" specific evidence showing Iran planned to strike 4 U.S. embassies, despite @realDonaldTrump saying an attack at multiple embassies was “imminent." Watch more of Esper's interview on @FacetheNation today. pic.twitter.com/1Nud8waok1
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) January 12, 2020