President Donald Trump and his closest associates have gone to great lengths to attempt to convince observers that their abrupt assassination of top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was justified because of some kind of imminent threat against the United States that could be thwarted by his death. But a newly released memo that’s been circulated among members of Congress completely upends that argument, instead depicting the assassination as retaliation for gradually increasing violence from Iran-backed militias over a series of months. The option of the strike actually being unnecessary confirms the fears of those who wondered if Trump had dragged the U.S. closer to war just to prove a point.
An unclassified version of the revealing memo was shared by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who noted alongside an image of the document that Congress has a glaring opening to act to restrain Trump’s war powers.
Signed by Trump himself, the memo reads, in part:
‘I directed these actions in response to an escalating series of attacks in recent months by Iran and Iran-backed militias on United States forces and interests in the Middle East region. The purposes of these actions are to protect United States personnel, to deter Iran from conducting or supporting further attacks against United States forces and interests, to degrade Iran’s and Qods Force-backed militias’ ability to conduct attacks, and to end Iran’s strategic escalation of attacks on and threats to United States interests.’
None of that includes any language suggesting an imminent threat that warranted the volatility that Trump has thrown the U.S. and Middle East into. There’s already been a glimpse of that danger via the retaliatory missile strikes Iran launched against two U.S. bases in Iraq earlier this week.
In response, Van Hollen insisted that Congress “must pass a bill making clear Trump can’t start a war without a vote.”
Here’s the unclassified version of what Trump sent Congress after the hit on Suleimani.
From all we’ve seen, including the redacted parts here and the briefing, the facts do not show an imminent threat.
We must pass a bill making clear Trump can’t start a war without a vote. pic.twitter.com/mUnkLwsph1
— Senator Chris Van Hollen (@ChrisVanHollen) January 9, 2020
Following the briefing this week that Van Hollen and other Senators received, Democrats trying to restrain Trump’s war powers actually got at least two new apparent supporters: Republican Senators Rand Paul (Ky.) and Mike Lee (Utah).
“I walked into the briefing undecided. I walked out decided,” @SenMikeLee says announcing support for Dem war powers resolution. @RandPaul agrees.
Lee’s words describing briefing: “.. un-American, unconstitutional … wrong … insulting … completely unacceptable.”
— Paul Kane (@pkcapitol) January 8, 2020
Videos of Lee in particular circulated widely in which he tore into the administration for supposedly insisting to Senators that they shouldn’t even publicly debate the question of whether or not Trump’s warmongering is justified. Lee called the situation the “worst briefing I’ve seen, at least on a military issue” and insisted that the administration’s behavior was “un-American, unconstitutional, and wrong.” He singled out an instance when a briefer said they were “sure they could think of something” as a reason to consult Congress before military action, but Lee denounced the idea of haphazard, “drive-by” notification to Congress of war.
This is a stunning statement from GOP Senator Mike Lee (Utah) who just left a classified intelligence briefing on the situation in Iran. pic.twitter.com/XmwscWV7ng
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) January 8, 2020
Democrats had plenty of their own criticism for the briefers as well. In particular, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that “there were so many important questions that they did not answer” but “as the questions began to get tough, they walked out.” That’s not exactly reassuring, considering these are the people with the power to put lives in danger!
NEW: Sen. Chuck Schumer after Trump administration's congressional briefing on Iranian actions: "There were so many important questions that they did not answer…As the questions began to get tough, they walked out." https://t.co/AFeJHoeuPF pic.twitter.com/w5xTsGKOYw
— ABC News (@ABC) January 8, 2020