Trump accused of telling Fox News more about strike than Congress

  • President Donald Trump and top administration officials are offering different — sometimes contradictory — reasons for the US decision to assassinate top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani earlier this month. 
  • Trump in an interview with Fox News' Laura Ingraham Friday claimed that Soleimani was plotting imminent strikes on four US embassies. 
  • When asked in an interview on CNN Sunday about Trump's claim, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said: "I didn't see one with regard to four embassies."
  • Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware in a Sunday interview with Fox News Sunday said that in a classified briefing with the Trump administration on Iran, senators "got less detailed information than President Trump shared with Laura Ingraham."
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In seeking to explain why the US killed top Iranian commander in a drone strike earlier in January, President Donald Trump and key administration officials are having a hard time settling on a clear story. 

With the assassination potentially among the most consequential decisions of his presidency, Trump has sought to justify it by claimed that Soleimani posed an "imminent" threat and in an interview with Fox News' Laura Ingraham on Friday claimed the general was plotting attacks on not just one but four US embassies in the Middle East..

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had earlier also asserted that Soleimani posed an imminent threat, but then, bafflingly, said there was no time frame in which the attacks were expected to occur.

Then, in an interview on CNN Sunday, Defense Secretary Mark Esper wound himself in a tangle of contradictions, saying that he had been presented with no evidence showing that four embassies were being targeted, but nonetheless shared the president's "belief" that four embassies were under threat of attack. 

Coffins of Gen. Qassem Soleimani and others who were killed in Iraq by a U.S. drone strike, are carried on a truck surrounded by mourners during a funeral procession, in the city of Kerman, Iran, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020.Erfan Kouchari/Tasnim News Agency via AP

Lawmakers say that the information presented to Congress in classified briefings has made the case Soleimani presented an imminent threat was no more compelling. 

Delaware Sen. Chris Coons in an interview with Fox News Sunday accused the president of sharing more information on the strike with Ingraham on Friday than he has done with lawmakers representing the American people. 

"Frankly in the classified briefing that lasted 75 minutes and had virtually the entire Senate there, we got less detailed information than President Trump shared with Laura Ingraham," Coons told host Chris Wallace.

"So we were told repeatedly that there was reliable intelligence of an imminent threat, that's it."

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Gen. Qassem Soleimani's funeral
Iranian mourners gather during the final stage of funeral processions for slain top general Qasem Soleimani, in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020. - Soleimani was killed outside Baghdad airport on January 3 in a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump, ratcheting up tensions with arch-enemy Iran which has vowed "severe revenge". The assassination of the 62-year-old heightened international concern about a new war in the volatile, oil-rich Middle East and rattled financial markets. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Iranian mourners gather around a vehicle carrying the coffin of slain top general Qasem Soleimani during the final stage of funeral processions, in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020. - Soleimani was killed outside Baghdad airport Friday in a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump, ratcheting up tensions with arch-enemy Iran which has vowed "severe revenge". The assassination of the 62-year-old heightened international concern about a new war in the volatile, oil-rich Middle East and rattled financial markets. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Iranian mourners gather during the final stage of funeral processions for slain top general Qasem Soleimani in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020. - Soleimani was killed outside Baghdad airport on January 3 in a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump, ratcheting up tensions with arch-enemy Iran which has vowed "severe revenge". The assassination of the 62-year-old heightened international concern about a new war in the volatile, oil-rich Middle East and rattled financial markets. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Iranian mourners stand on a bridge during the final stage of funeral processions for slain top general Qasem Soleimani, in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020. - Soleimani was killed outside Baghdad airport on January 3 in a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump, ratcheting up tensions with arch-enemy Iran which has vowed "severe revenge". The assassination of the 62-year-old heightened international concern about a new war in the volatile, oil-rich Middle East and rattled financial markets. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
An Iranian mourner holds a placard during the final stage of funeral processions for slain top general Qasem Soleimani, in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020. - Soleimani was killed outside Baghdad airport on January 3 in a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump, ratcheting up tensions with arch-enemy Iran which has vowed "severe revenge". The assassination of the 62-year-old heightened international concern about a new war in the volatile, oil-rich Middle East and rattled financial markets. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Iranian mourners gather during the final stage of funeral processions for slain top general Qasem Soleimani, in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020. - Soleimani was killed outside Baghdad airport on January 3 in a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump, ratcheting up tensions with arch-enemy Iran which has vowed "severe revenge". The assassination of the 62-year-old heightened international concern about a new war in the volatile, oil-rich Middle East and rattled financial markets. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Iranian mourners hold posters of slain top general Qasem Soleimani during the final stage of funeral processions in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020. - Soleimani was killed outside Baghdad airport on January 3 in a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump, ratcheting up tensions with arch-enemy Iran which has vowed "severe revenge". The assassination of the 62-year-old heightened international concern about a new war in the volatile, oil-rich Middle East and rattled financial markets. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
An Iranian mourner burns incense during the final stage of funeral processions for slain top general Qasem Soleimani, in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020. - Soleimani was killed outside Baghdad airport on January 3 in a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump, ratcheting up tensions with arch-enemy Iran which has vowed "severe revenge". The assassination of the 62-year-old heightened international concern about a new war in the volatile, oil-rich Middle East and rattled financial markets. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Iranian mourners gather during the final stage of funeral processions for slain top general Qasem Soleimani, in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020. - Soleimani was killed outside Baghdad airport Friday in a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump, ratcheting up tensions with arch-enemy Iran which has vowed "severe revenge". The assassination of the 62-year-old heightened international concern about a new war in the volatile, oil-rich Middle East and rattled financial markets. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Iranian mourners gather around a vehicle carrying the coffin of slain top general Qasem Soleimani during the final stage of funeral processions, in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020. - Soleimani was killed outside Baghdad airport Friday in a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump, ratcheting up tensions with arch-enemy Iran which has vowed "severe revenge". The assassination of the 62-year-old heightened international concern about a new war in the volatile, oil-rich Middle East and rattled financial markets. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Iranian mourners gather during the final stage of funeral processions for slain top general Qasem Soleimani, in his hometown Kerman on January 7, 2020. - Soleimani was killed outside Baghdad airport Friday in a drone strike ordered by US President Donald Trump, ratcheting up tensions with arch-enemy Iran which has vowed "severe revenge". The assassination of the 62-year-old heightened international concern about a new war in the volatile, oil-rich Middle East and rattled financial markets. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
In this image made from a video, mourners gather to pay their respects to the slain Gen. Qassem Soleimani who was killed in a U.S. airstrike, in Kerman, Iran Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. (Iran Press via AP)
Mourners walk back from a funeral ceremony for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a U.S. drone attack on Friday, passing a satirical drawing of the Statue of Liberty painted on the wall of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. Funeral ceremonies for Soleimani drew a crowd said by police to be in the millions, on Monday in Tehran, where his replacement vowed to take revenge. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Coffins of Gen. Qassem Soleimani and others who were killed in Iraq by a U.S. drone strike, are carried on a truck surrounded by mourners during a funeral procession at the Enqelab-e-Eslami (Islamic Revolution) square in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. The processions mark the first time Iran honored a single man with a multi-city ceremony. Not even Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who founded the Islamic Republic, received such a processional with his death in 1989. Soleimani on Monday will lie in state at Tehran's famed Musalla mosque as the revolutionary leader did before him. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
In this image taken from video, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, openly weeps as he leads a prayer over the coffin of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in Iraq in a U.S. drone strike on Friday, at the Tehran University campus, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. (Iran Press TV via AP)
A mourner walk back from a funeral ceremony for Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his comrades, who were killed in Iraq in a U.S. drone attack on Friday, passing graffiti on the wall of the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 6, 2020. A push led by pro-Iran factions to oust U.S. troops from Iraq is gaining momentum, bolstered by a Parliament vote in favor of a bill calling on the the government to remove them. But the path forward is unclear. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
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Wallace later interviewed White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien about why lawmakers were not briefed with information on a specific threat to four US embassies the president felt free to share with millions on TV. 

"He is telling Laura Ingraham, our esteemed colleague, but in a 75-minute classified briefing your top national security people never mention this to members of Congress. Why not?" said Wallace. 

O'Brien's response echoed Esper's — refusing to confirm that specific intelligence indicated a threat to four embassies while claiming that the president's assertion was nonetheless "consistent" with the intelligence available. 

"It is always difficult to know exactly what the targets are but it certainly is consistent with the intelligence to assume they would have hit embassies in at least four countries," O'Brien responded.

Robert C' O BrienMichael Campanella/Getty Images

 

And further undermining the president's case, NBC News reported Monday that Trump had authorized the assassination of Soleimani seven months ago as one of a number of potential retaliatory actions should Iran escalate its aggression against the US. 

NBC, citing numerous officials, said Trump was prepared to kill Iran's top general only if an American life was lost amid escalating tensions. And just after Christmas that occurred, when an Iran-backed militia in Iraq killed a US contractor in a rocket attack on a base in Iraq. 

Thus according to this account, the killing was seen as a severe punishment for Iran for the loss of a US citizen's life signaling Iran had crossed a red line, and a warning against future escalations.

It was not a step at that time seen as only being available if imminent threats presented themselves from Iran. 

The assassination of Soleimani has set off a chain of events that throw the region in to chaos. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Tehran after the Iranian government, poised for US retaliation for airstrikes it launched on targets in Iraq, accidentally shot down an airliner.

As the consequences of the strike continue to play out in Iran and across the wider world, the Trump administration will continue to face questions about why it can't get its story straight. 

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