President Donald Trump’s administration justified its killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani by saying he was plotting an “imminent” attack targeting Americans.
But officials have no idea when or where this supposed attack would take place.
“There is no doubt that there were a series of imminent attacks that were being plotted by Qassem Soleimani,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a Fox News interview that aired Thursday. “We don’t know precisely when, and we don’t know precisely where, but it was real.”
National security adviser Robert O’Brien similarly had to admit during an interview on National Public Radio that aired Friday morning that he too didn’t know any more details about the alleged coming attacks.
Q: Did you know the time and place of the attacks that were being planned?
O’BRIEN: We had very good intelligence that there was an imminent attack being planned.
Q: But time and place?
O’BRIEN: It was imminent. You know, you never know the time or place of these things with with perfect particularity. But we had very good information that there were imminent attacks planned against Americans in Iraq and potentially Syria. Both diplomats and soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines. I’ve seen the intelligence and it was it was incredibly strong intelligence. There are a lot of people that want that intelligence released. You know, look, I wish we could, but at the same time, we don’t want to compromise sources and methods that allow us to protect Americans.
Pompeo insisted there was nothing weird about the fact that they didn’t have more specifics on the “imminent” attacks during a press briefing Friday morning.
“We had specific information on an imminent threat and those threats included attacks on U.S. embassies. Period. Full stop,” Pompeo told reporters Friday morning.
He said there was nothing inconsistent between that statement and the fact that they didn’t know the time or the place of the attacks.
“Don’t know exactly which minute, exactly which day it would have been executed but it was very clear, Qassem Soleimani himself was plotting a broad, large-scale attack against American interests,” he said. “And it was imminent. Against American facilities throughout the region.”
Soleimani is not a new bad guy, and it was not the first time he was allegedly plotting attacks. The United States and its allies have considered killing him before but have chosen not to because of the risk of deadly escalation and retaliation.
But the Trump administration not only decided to strike Soleimani, it did so without consulting Congress. On Thursday, top administration officials ― including Pompeo ― conducted a retroactive closed-door briefing for senators on the strike.
Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) called it “probably the worst briefing, at least on a military issue” that he had seen in his nine years in the chamber.
“One of the messages that we received from the briefers was: Do not debate, do not discuss the issue of appropriateness of further military intervention against Iran. And that if you do, you’ll be emboldening Iran,” he added.
Asked about Pompeo’s comments on MSNBC, both Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said Friday that the administration shared no specific intelligence on threats to U.S. embassies with lawmakers during the briefing this week.
That also contradicts what Trump himself said at a rally Thursday in Toledo, Ohio, when he said Soleimani “was actively planning new attacks, and he was looking very seriously at our embassies ― and not just the embassy in Baghdad ― but we stopped him and we stopped him quickly, and we stopped him cold.”
In an interview set to air Friday night on Fox News, Trump more specifically says it was four embassies.
“We we will tell you that it was probably going to be the embassy in Baghdad,” said Trump, lacking certainty.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) wasn’t convinced, tweeting that senators would’ve heard about this threat if it were true.
With the administration struggling to explain how the Soleimani attacks were indeed “imminent,” there are indications that there were other reasons officials decided to take out the Iranian commander.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump was feeling pressure to do something on Iran in order to appease trigger-happy GOP senators whose support he needed on impeachment.
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.
This piece was updated with additional information.