Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday that he hadn’t seen any specific evidence which indicated that Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was planning to attack four U.S. embassies, poking yet another hole in President Trump’s “imminent threat” rationale for assassinating Soleimani. During an appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation, Esper acknowledged that he “didn’t see” any intelligence regarding the four-embassy claim Trump made on Friday.
When asked by host Margaret Brennan whether or not there was a specific threat against four embassies, Esper first emphasized that Trump had said he “believed that it probably and could have been attacks against additional embassies” — which he defended by saying that he shared the president’s belief. Brennan then pressed the defense secretary on how he didn’t seem to be describing a “decisive piece of intelligence” regarding the potential attacks:
SEC. ESPER: Well, the president didn’t say there was a tangible- he didn’t cite a specific piece of evidence. What he said is he probably — he believed, could have been —
MARGARET BRENNAN: Are you saying there wasn’t one?
SEC. ESPER: I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies. What I’m saying is I share the president’s view that probably — my expectation was they were going to go after our embassies.
After originally only saying that Soleimani posed an imminent threat to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, President Trump suddenly inflated the number of threatened emabassies during a Fox News interview on Friday. “I can reveal that I believe it would’ve been four embassies,” Trump announced — to the surprise of members of Congress who had been supposedly briefed by the White House on the intelligence.
“If there was evidence of imminent attacks on four embassies, the administration would have said so at our [Gang of Eight briefing on Wednesday”], Democratic Senator Chris Murphy pointed out on Friday.
Responding to bipartisan criticism of the administration’s detail-light all-Senate briefing on Soleimani last week, Esper offered a very Trump-like assurance on Sunday: “For every member that didn’t like the brief, there were members who thought it was the greatest brief ever.”