President Donald Trump said Monday “it doesn’t really matter” if Iran’s top general was plotting attacks on Americans at the time of his death.
Trump’s about-face contradicts his and his administration’s repeated assertions that the president only ordered the U.S. killing of Qassem Soleimani to prevent the Iranian Quds Force general from carrying out “imminent” attacks on American troops and diplomats in the Middle East.
“The Fake News Media and their Democrat Partners are working hard to determine whether or not the future attack by terrorist Soleimani was ‘imminent’ or not, & was my team in agreement,” Trump tweeted. “The answer to both is a strong YES, but it doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past!”
The mixed signals from Trump comes as his Cabinet officials keep contradicting each other while giving justifications for the Jan. 3 airstrike that killed Soleimani outside a Baghdad airport.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday he had seen no intelligence to back up the president’s claim a few days earlier that the “imminent” attacks Soleimani was allegedly planning targeted four U.S. embassies.
Former U.S. officials say they can think of no scenario under which a president would be privy to military intelligence that a defense secretary did not know of.
“Unless standard operating procedures for sharing intelligence in the USG have changed radically since the time I served in the Obama administration, there is no way that the president, but not the secretary of defense, would have this kind of intel. No way,” tweeted Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, said last week he didn’t know “exactly where” or “exactly when” Soleimani was going to strike, only to backtrack and claim he was definitely targeting American embassies.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have said Trump administration officials did not provide sufficient explanations in classified briefings last week as to why the U.S. needed to kill Soleimani, who effectively served as Iran’s second-in-command directly under the supreme leader.
Previous American presidents have had the opportunity to kill Soleimani but opted against it, reasoning his death could spark all-out war in the Middle East. Soleimani was considered responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American forces and allies.
Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have reached a fever pitch in the past few days.
In a tragic development, Iran admitted over the weekend that it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane after firing a volley of ballistic missiles at U.S. military bases in Iraq last week in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing. All 176 people on board the plane died, including dozens of Iranians.
Hundreds of enraged Iranians have taken to the streets of Tehran to protest the regime in the wake of the accidental strike, and Trump cheered them on Monday.
“Wow! The wonderful Iranian protesters refused to step on, or in any way denigrate, our Great American Flag,” Trump tweeted in apparent reference to news footage of protesters.
“It was put on the street in order for them to trample it, and they walked around it instead. Big progress!”