Feb 14, 2020 - Politics & Policy

No "imminent" threat cited in White House letter on killing Qasem Soleimani

In this image, Mike Pompeo stands in front of a White House logo

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announces new sanctions on Iran on Jan. 10. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump authorized killing top Iranian general Qasem Solemani in response to "an escalating series" of Iran-backed attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East in previous months and to deter future Iranian attacks, the White House asserted to Congress on Friday.

Why it matters: The official reason for killing Soleimani contradicts the administration's original claim that Trump authorized the strike to disrupt an "imminent" attack against Americans in the Middle East.

What they're saying: Targeting Soleimani in Iraq was an action of "national self-defense," the White House said in a memo given to lawmakers on Friday. "Iran's past and recent activities, coupled with intelligence at the time of the air strike, indicated that Iran's Qods Force posed a threat to the United States in Iraq."

  • The memo stipulates that the president is constitutionally empowered to use military force against the threat of an imminent attack, but does not detail what imminent attack was posed prior to the lethal strike on Soleimani — a designated terrorist whose activities in the Middle East led to the deaths of hundreds of U.S. service members.
  • The White House had no additional comment on the letter.

Flashback: Pompeo said in January that Soleimani was plotting a "big action" in the Middle East prior to the strike that could have put hundreds of American lives at risk.

Go deeper: How Trump decided to kill Iran's Soleimani

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