Trump Admin Can’t Confirm ‘Specific’ Intel Of Iran Threat To Attack Four US Embassies

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper holds a media briefing at the Pentagon on August 28, 2019. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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January 12, 2020 2:38 p.m.

Throughout their multiple appearances on Sunday cable news shows, neither Defense Secretary Mark Esper nor National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien could confirm that President Trump had specific intelligence that top Iranian military official Qasem Soleimani threatened to target four U.S. embassies.

In an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham that aired Friday, Trump said that he was justified in authorizing the strike that killed Soleimani because the top Iranian military official had been planning attacks on four U.S. embassies — a claim that sits at odds with senior officials in his administration.

During an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper Sunday morning, Esper said that Trump never claimed to have “specific intelligence” that Soleimani planned to attack four U.S. embassies, but that he shared the President’s “belief” that was the case.

When Tapper asked Esper whether Trump was “embellishing” the imminence of the threats, Esper said that he didn’t believe so because “the bottom line is we had exquisite intelligence that could only be shared with the Gang of Eight.”

After Tapper said that it “doesn’t make sense” for Trump to make the threat claim publicly on Fox News while Esper can’t share what he said is “exquisite intelligence” with Congress, Esper refused to go into details of what they were briefed “partly because I wasn’t there.”

Watch Esper’s remarks on CNN below:

Esper echoed his comments on CNN in an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday when he said that he “believed” the attacks on four embassies was imminent and insisted that “the President didn’t say there was a tangible—he didn’t cite a specific piece of evidence.”

“Are you saying there wasn’t one?” CBS’ Margaret Brennan asked Esper, which he said he “didn’t see one with regard to four embassies” and that he “shared the President’s view that probably, my expectation is they were going to go after our embassies.”

O’Brien’s appearances on Sunday morning news shows also failed to provide any clarification.

When ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos pointed out to the national security adviser that Trump “has said about four embassies being targeted seems to be at odds with what a lot of Democrats and others heard in those briefings,” O’Brien said that he “would love to release the intelligence in light of this” but that the reason the administration doesn’t is “because that same intelligence, those same streams and channels are what allows us to protect Americans going forward.”

O’Brien then insisted to Stephanopolous that “everything the President has said is consistent with and his interpretation is very consistent with the intelligence which showed that Soleimani was plotting to kill Americans” and that “we feel good about the explanation that’s been given to Congress.” O’Brien also added that the four embassies who Trump claims were under Soleimani’s threat weren’t alerted nor evacuated because “we’re not going to cut and run every time somebody threatens us.”

Watch O’Brien’s interview on ABC below:

O’Brien didn’t clarify the imminency of the threat on “Meet the Press” with MSNBC’s Chuck Todd either, saying that “imminent, generally, means soon, quickly, you know, in process” and that the embassy in Baghdad was not warned of a threat because it was a “very fast-moving situation.”

“This is a very fast-moving situation. And Soleimani was traveling around the region, plotting against the United States,” O’Brien told Todd. “As soon as it looked like there was going to be some sort of action against the U.S. embassy, the President was decisive and bold in his action.”

O’Brien would then echo Esper’s argument that the administration had “exquisite intelligence” on Iran’s threats that Trump’s interpretation of the intelligence is “consistent.”

“We had exquisite intelligence and the intelligence showed that they were looking at U.S. facilities throughout the region and that they wanted to inflict casualties on American soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, as well as diplomats,” O’Brien said. “The threat was imminent. I saw the intelligence.”

Watch O’Brien’s remarks on “Meet the Press” below:

O’Brien would also tell Fox News’ Chris Wallace that “it’s always difficult” for the administration to release “exquisite intel” without risking the loss of their source of intelligence.

“It is always difficult, even with the exquisite intelligence we have, to know exactly what the targets are,” O’Brien answered. “But it certainly is consistent with the intelligence to assume they would have hit embassies in at least four countries.”

Watch O’Brien’s remarks on Fox News below:

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