Esper. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said at the Aspen Security Forum Wednesday that "most believe" the explosions that rocked Beirut, Lebanon, on Tuesday were the product of some kind of accident.

Why it matters: President Trump claimed at a press conference Tuesday that he had spoken to generals who "seem to feel that this was not some kind of a manufacturing explosion type of event," and that it was "a bomb of some kind." The remarks set off confusion and prompted anonymous defense officials to tell CNN and AP that there is no indication yet that the blasts were an attack.

The big picture: The Lebanese government has said the blast most likely came from a 2,750-ton stockpile of ammonium nitrate, a highly explosive chemical used to make fertilizer. More than 100 people have been killed and thousands have been injured, overwhelming hospitals and leaving much of the city in ruins.

What they're saying: "Still getting information on what happened," Esper said. "Most believe it was an accident, as reported. Beyond that, I have nothing further to report on that. It's obviously a tragedy."

  • "We mourn for the dozens, if not hundreds, of Lebanese possibly killed and thousands hurt. Lebanon's struggling right now in a number of ways and it's a shame to see it happen. When you see the video, it's just devastating."
  • "But we want to help. I spoke to Secretary Pompeo this morning. We're reaching out to the Lebanese government, have reached out. We're positioning ourselves to provide them whatever assistance we can — humanitarian aid, medical supplies, you name it — to assist the people of Lebanon."

Go deeper: What we know about the Beirut explosions

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Aug 12, 2020 - World

U.S. threatens to veto UN peacekeeping in Lebanon over Hezbollah concerns

Peacekeepers with Lebanese troops in southern Lebanon. Photo: Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty

The Trump administration is threatening to veto a resolution to extend the UN's long-standing peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon if its mandate isn't changed, Israeli and U.S. officials tell me.

Why it matters: The U.S. is the main funder of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which has an annual budget of $250 million. The veto threat is a tactical move, and part of a broader effort to put pressure on Iran and its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

Durbin on Barrett confirmation: "We can’t stop the outcome"

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on ABC's "This Week" that Senate Democrats can “slow” the process of confirming Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett “perhaps a matter of hours, maybe days at the most," but that they "can’t stop the outcome."

Why it matters: Durbin confirmed that Democrats have "no procedural silver bullet" to stop Senate Republicans from confirming Barrett before the election, especially with only two GOP senators — Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine — voicing their opposition. Instead, Democrats will likely look to retaliate after the election if they win control of the Senate and White House.

The top Republicans who aren't voting for Trump in 2020

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge announced in an op-ed Sunday that he would be voting for Joe Biden.

Why it matters: Ridge, who was also the first secretary of homeland security under George W. Bush, joins other prominent Republicans who have publicly said they will either not vote for Trump's re-election this November or will back Biden.