Feb 14, 2020 - Politics & Policy

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

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

Go deeper

Buttigieg: "No evidence that [killing Soleimani] made our country safer"

Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg both stated they would have handled the drone strike on Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani differently than President Trump.

The big picture: Trump is likely to parade the killing of Soleimani as one of his signature national security accomplishments in the 2020 campaign. ABC News' David Muir pointed out previous administrations knew of Soleimani's threat but never ordered a strike.

White House threatens to veto Iran war powers resolution

Demonstrators protesting the U.S. drone attack that killed Iran's Qasem Soleimani, Washington, D.C., Jan. 4.

The White House on Wednesday threatened to veto a resolution making its way through Congress that would curb President Trump's ability to direct military action against Iran without congressional authorization.

Driving the news: The Senate is now holding debates on the resolution after a majority voted 51-45 to advance the measure. Eight Republicans joined Democrats in voting in favor of it, signaling the measure could pass with bipartisan support.

Trump's sense of invincibility

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios.

President Trump often says he's the smartest person in the room on virtually every topic. Now, after taking several risks on what he privately calls "big shit" and avoiding catastrophe, Trump and his entire inner circle convey supreme self-confidence, bordering on a sense of invincibility.

The state of play: Three years into Trump's presidency, their view is the naysayers are always wrong. They point to Iran, impeachment, Middle East peace. Every day, Trump grows more confident in his gut and less deterrable. Over the last month, 10 senior administration officials have described this sentiment to me. Most of them share it.