Esper 'didn't see' intelligence backing up Trump claim Iran was preparing to attack 4 embassies

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday that he "didn't see" specific evidence that Iran was readying to attack four U.S. embassies, as President Donald Trump claimed last week, though Esper said he shared Trump's view that such an attack was "probably" in the works.

"What the president said was he believed that it probably and could've been attacks against additional embassies," Esper told CBS's "Face the Nation." "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."

After telling reporters that Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike this month, sought to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Trump told Fox News host Laura Ingraham in a Friday interview: "I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies" Soleimani was plotting against.

Esper said the president made no citation of "a specific piece of evidence," adding that Trump was just making clear what he believed to be the case.

"I didn't see one with regard to four embassies," Esper said of a specific piece of evidence leading to Trump's conclusion. "What I'm saying is I shared the president's view ... my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies."

Speaking with CNN's "State of the Union," Esper said intelligence showed "there was an intent to target the U.S. embassy in Baghdad."

"What the president said with regard to the four embassies is what I believe as well," he added. "He said that they probably, that they could have been targeting the embassies in the region. I believe that as well, as did other national security team members."

National security adviser Robert O’Brien on Sunday echoed Esper's comments, telling NBC's "Meet the Press" that the U.S. "had exquisite intelligence" that Iran looking to attack U.S. facilities throughout the region.

"The president’s interpretation of that intelligence is very consistent with it," he added. "So I think this has been a Washington thing—when we tell the American people there was exquisite intelligence and there was going to be an attack on Americans, we had to stop that."

The comments came as the Trump administration continues to face questions over what the "imminent" threat Soleimani posed prior to Trump ordering a military airstrike against him outside of Baghdad's airport.

The Defense Department said Soleimani, the leader of Iran's Quds Forces, approved attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and orchestrated attacks on U.S.-led coalition bases in Iraq. Soleimani's death came days after protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

But in the days since Soleimani's killing, the Trump administration has remained tight-lipped about the "imminent" threat they claimed Soleimani posed, particularly on if Soleimani was acting out of step in comparison with his years of similar planning as a leader in Iran's proxy wars and other covert operations, which have led to U.S. deaths. Prior administrations opted against killing the top Iranian official.

Democratic and even some Republican members of Congress have fumed that the administration has refused to provide them with the backing of their assessment, even in classified briefings. Vice President Mike Pence told NBC News last week the administration could not provide Congress with some of the "most compelling" intelligence behind its decision to because doing so "could compromise" sources and methods.

Last week, the House approved a war powers resolution aimed at limiting Trump's military actions against Iran.

Iran retaliated for Soleimani's death by launching more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases housing U.S. forces last week. The Iranian government said its military was also responsible for mistakenly shooting down a commercial airliner as it attacked the bases in Iraq, killing all 176 people on board the Ukrainian Airlines Flight.

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U.S. soldiers fire tear gas towards protesters who broke into the U.S. embassy compound, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Protesters burn property and wave militia flags in front of the U.S. embassy compound, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Protesters burn property in front of the U.S. embassy compound, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Protesters burn property in front of the U.S. embassy compound, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Protesters damage property inside the U.S. embassy compound, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec 31, 2019. Dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Protesters burn property in front of the U.S. embassy compound, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Protesters burn property in front of the U.S. embassy compound, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Protesters burn property in front of the U.S. embassy compound, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Protesters smash a window inside the U.S. embassy compound, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
U.S. soldiers fire tear gas to stop protesters inside U.S. embassy compound, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
U.S. soldiers fire tear gas to stop protesters inside U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Protesters burn property inside the U.S. embassy compund, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Iraqi protesters try to disable the camera on the outer wall of the US embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone during an angry demonstration on December 31, 2019 to denounce weekend US air strikes that killed Iran-backed fighters in Iraq. - It was the first time in years protesters have been able to reach the US embassy in the Iraqi capital, which is sheltered behind a series of checkpoints in the high-security Green Zone. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)
Iraqi protesters throw stones at the US embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone during an angry demonstration on December 31, 2019 to denounce weekend US air strikes that killed Iran-backed fighters in Iraq. - It was the first time in years protesters have been able to reach the US embassy in the Iraqi capital, which is sheltered behind a series of checkpoints in the high-security Green Zone. (Photo by SABAH ARAR / AFP) (Photo by SABAH ARAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Iraqi protesters throw stones at the US embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone during an angry demonstration on December 31, 2019 to denounce weekend US air strikes that killed Iran-backed fighters in Iraq. - It was the first time in years protesters have been able to reach the US embassy in the Iraqi capital, which is sheltered behind a series of checkpoints in the high-security Green Zone. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)
A member of the Iraqi security forces stands guard in front of the outer wall of the US embassy in the capital Baghdad during a protest on December 31, 2019, to denounce the weekend's air strikes by US planes on several bases belonging to the Hezbollah brigades near Al-Qaim, an Iraqi district bordering Syria - It was the first time in years protesters have been able to reach the US embassy in the Iraqi capital, which is sheltered behind a series of checkpoints in the high-security Green Zone. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP) / The erroneous mention[s] appearing in the metadata of this photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE has been modified in AFP systems in the following manner: [A member of the Iraqi security forces] instead of [An armed member of [An armed member of Iraq's pro-Iranian Hashd al-Shaabi paramilitary group] Please immediately remove the erroneous mention[s] from all your online services and delete it (them) from your servers. If you have been authorized by AFP to distribute it (them) to third parties, please ensure that the same actions are carried out by them. Failure to promptly comply with these instructions will entail liability on your part for any continued or post notification usage. Therefore we thank you very much for all your attention and prompt action. We are sorry for the inconvenience this notification may cause and remain at your disposal for any further information you may require. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - DECEMBER 31: Outraged Iraqi protesters hold flags and placards as they storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, protesting Washington's attacks on armed battalions belong to Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi forces on December 31, 2019. At least 25 people were killed in weekend U.S. airstrikes on positions of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia group, in Iraq and Syria. Hundreds of Iraqi protesters gathered early Tuesday near the embassy to show their anger at the U.S. move. (Photo by Haydar Karaalp/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Irak'ta ii milis gücü Hadi abi yanls protestocular, ABD'nin Badat Büyükelçilii binasn basarak içeri girdi. ABD yönetiminin Hadi abieya bal Hizbullah Tugaylar'na düzenledii saldry protesto etmek için bakent Badat'taki ABD Büyükelçilii önünde toplanan protestocular, Hizbullah bayraklar ve dövizler tad. (Photo by Haydar Karaalp/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - DECEMBER 31: Outraged Iraqi protesters hold flags and placards as they storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, protesting Washington's attacks on armed battalions belong to Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi forces on December 31, 2019. At least 25 people were killed in weekend U.S. airstrikes on positions of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia group, in Iraq and Syria. Hundreds of Iraqi protesters gathered early Tuesday near the embassy to show their anger at the U.S. move. (Photo by Haydar Karaalp/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - DECEMBER 31: Outraged Iraqi protesters hold flags and placards as they storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, protesting Washington's attacks on armed battalions belong to Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi forces on December 31, 2019. At least 25 people were killed in weekend U.S. airstrikes on positions of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia group, in Iraq and Syria. Hundreds of Iraqi protesters gathered early Tuesday near the embassy to show their anger at the U.S. move. (Photo by Haydar Karaalp/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - DECEMBER 31: Outraged Iraqi protesters set fire to the wall as they storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, protesting Washington's attacks on armed battalions belong to Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi forces on December 31, 2019. At least 25 people were killed in weekend U.S. airstrikes on positions of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia group, in Iraq and Syria. Hundreds of Iraqi protesters gathered early Tuesday near the embassy to show their anger at the U.S. move. (Photo by Haydar Karaalp/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - DECEMBER 31: Outraged Iraqi protesters set fire to the wall as they storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, protesting Washington's attacks on armed battalions belong to Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi forces on December 31, 2019. At least 25 people were killed in weekend U.S. airstrikes on positions of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia group, in Iraq and Syria. Hundreds of Iraqi protesters gathered early Tuesday near the embassy to show their anger at the U.S. move. (Photo by Haydar Karaalp/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - DECEMBER 31: Outraged Iraqi protesters set fire to the wall as they storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, protesting Washington's attacks on armed battalions belong to Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi forces on December 31, 2019. At least 25 people were killed in weekend U.S. airstrikes on positions of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia group, in Iraq and Syria. Hundreds of Iraqi protesters gathered early Tuesday near the embassy to show their anger at the U.S. move. (Photo by Haydar Karaalp/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - DECEMBER 31: Outraged Iraqi protesters set fire to the wall as they storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, protesting Washington's attacks on armed battalions belong to Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi forces on December 31, 2019. At least 25 people were killed in weekend U.S. airstrikes on positions of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia group, in Iraq and Syria. Hundreds of Iraqi protesters gathered early Tuesday near the embassy to show their anger at the U.S. move. (Photo by Haydar Karaalp/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - DECEMBER 31: Outraged Iraqi protesters storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, protesting Washington's attacks on armed battalions belong to Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi forces on December 31, 2019. At least 25 people were killed in weekend U.S. airstrikes on positions of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia group, in Iraq and Syria. Hundreds of Iraqi protesters gathered early Tuesday near the embassy to show their anger at the U.S. move. (Photo by Murtadha Sudani/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
BAGHDAD, IRAQ - DECEMBER 31: Outraged Iraqi protesters storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, protesting Washington's attacks on armed battalions belong to Iranian-backed Hashd al-Shaabi forces on December 31, 2019. At least 25 people were killed in weekend U.S. airstrikes on positions of Kataib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia group, in Iraq and Syria. Hundreds of Iraqi protesters gathered early Tuesday near the embassy to show their anger at the U.S. move. (Photo by Murtadha Sudani/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
An Iraqi protester holds up a sign that he took off from outside the US embassy in Baghdad after breaching the outer wall of the diplomatic mission during an angry demonstration on December 31, 2019 to denounce weekend US air strikes that killed Iran-backed fighters in Iraq. - It was the first time in years protesters have been able to reach the US embassy in the Iraqi capital, which is sheltered behind a series of checkpoints in the high-security Green Zone. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)
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