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Esper Admits He Didn't See Plot to Attack Embassies Trump Used to Kill Soleimani

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Esper Admits He Didn't See Plot to Attack Embassies Trump Used to Kill Soleimani

2020-01-13 12:42:39

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Mark Esper (Image source Screenshot)

It looks like Donald Trump is weaving tangled webs again. It's astonishing that he hasn't learned how many fact-checkers are out there and that his administration isn't going to continue to defend his actions when they keep being subpoenaed to explain their actions.

Yet, last week he repeatedly indicated that he went forward with the plan to take out Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani after learning of the Iranian general's plot to attack four embassies. While his administration is supporting the attack, they are unable to share the plan Trump discussed, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper even admitted he didn't see the plan. 

On Thursday, Trump said, "We caught a total monster. We took them out. And that should have happened a long time ago. We did it because they were looking to blow up our embassy."

"We also did it for other reasons that were very obvious. Somebody died. ... People were badly wounded just a week before. And we did it. We had a shot at it. ... That was the end of a monster," he added of the airstrike that took out Soleimani. 

Later that day, he updated his story to multiple embassies. "Soleimani was actively planning new attacks, and he was looking very seriously at our embassies, and not just the embassy in Baghdad," said Trump at his Toledo, Ohio, rally, "but we stopped him, and we stopped him quickly, and we stopped him cold."

The next day in an interview with Fox News, the president said, "I can reveal that I believe it would've been four embassies." 

But Esper said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that he "didn't see" evidence that Iran was planning to attack four embassies; however, he said he "share(s) the president'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."

Additionally, a senior administration official and senior defense official told The Washington Post they were only aware of vague intelligence regarding a plot against the embassy in Baghdad. They said the information did not suggest a fully formed plan, even at that. 

Despite not seeing the plan to attack four embassies, Esper still defended U.S. actions to take out Soleimani, saying it "disrupted attacks" and "reset terms with Iran."

National security adviser Robert O'Brien defended U.S. actions as well, stating on ABC's "This Week" that the Iranian regime is "having a bad week" and that the U.S. would continue its "maximum pressure campaign." Additionally, he added that Trump has shown "incredible restraint" with Iran and has been "modest in his dealings" with other nations. 

Yet, he also could not confirm the plot to attack four embassies, only mentioning a plot in vague terms. "What the president said is consistent with what we've been saying. We had very strong intelligence that they were looking to kill and maim Americans in American facilities in the region," he said in a "Fox News Sunday" appearance.

Even with U.S. intelligence, it's not easy "to know exactly what the targets are," continued O'Brien. He added that it was fair to anticipate Iran "would have hit embassies in at least four countries" in the future. Asked to share why the White House was not revealing more about the plan, he said, "I would love to release the intelligence," but "those same streams and channels" are integral to keeping Americans safe. 

House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA), a Gang of Eight member, spoke against an assertion Esper made about the Iran briefing the administration gave to Congress last week. He noted it lacked "specificity" regarding a potential embassy threat. He noted he and several others in the Gang of Eight were dissatisfied with what officials shared of their basis for the airstrike to take out Soleimani.

He said the president and his Defense secretary are "fudging" details and "overstating and exaggerating what the intelligence shows." He believes it's "dangerous" to do that with information that could lead the country into a potential war situation with Iran. 

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) has been very verbal about his dissatisfaction after the briefing last week, calling it the "worst" in his nine years in the Senate. He said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday, "That was news to me," regarding the plot on four embassies. "It certainly wasn't something I recall being raised in the classified briefing."

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) said on "Fox News Sunday" that they were given "less detailed information there than President Trump shared with Laura Ingraham." He admitted that the airstrike did take out "one of our worst enemies in the Middle East. ... But the larger question is, did it make us safer?" 

A surprise voice against the administration after the press briefing has been Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). He said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that officials were "dismissive of Congress" throughout the briefing and criticized them for relying on an authorization from former President George W. Bush's term to justify the attack. "We need to have a full-throated debate in Congress," he said. "I want to have that debate and bring our kids home."

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