President Donald Trump is facing heat from both sides of the political aisle amid fallout over the airstrike assassination of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the top military official in Iran, with many questioning the justification for the strike.
Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah is among them. Lee recently voiced his displeasure with a briefing from top Trump administration officials on the matter, dubbing it the “worst briefing” he’s received on a military issue in his nine years in the Senate.
“It’s not acceptable for officials within the executive branch of government … to come in and tell us we can’t debate and discuss the appropriateness of military intervention against Iran,” Lee told reporters after the Wednesday briefing. “It’s un-American. It’s unconstitutional and it’s wrong.”
CBS News reports Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, among others, hosted the briefing to the full Senate on last week’s drone strike in Baghdad, Iraq. Soleimani, a powerful military leader accused in the deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers, was killed instantly.
Trump approved the Friday airstrike, an action U.S. officials say was in response to an “imminent threat” to American diplomats and military members. The president and his administration claim Soleimani was “actively developing” plans to attack, “but got caught.”
“He should have been taken out many years ago!” Trump tweeted.
After Wednesday’s briefing, however, Democrats and others said the information given to them made no mention of an “imminent threat,” CBS News reported.
Sen. Lee appeared more angry at the fact that Trump officials were discouraging Congress from debating the ongoing military intervention in Iran, calling it “demeaning to the process ordained by the Constitution.” The U.S. Constitution delegates the power to declare war solely to Congress.
“I understand these are busy people. They’ve got a lot of demands on their time,” Lee said, adding that the briefing ended after 75 minutes. “They are appearing before a coordinate branch of government, a coordinate branch of government responsible for their funding, for their confirmation, for any approval of any military action they might undertake.”
“They had to leave … while they’re in the process of telling us we need to be good little boys and girls and run along and not debate this in public,” he added. “I find that absolutely insane. I think it’s unacceptable.”
Lee would not stop there. By Thursday morning, in an interview with NPR, he detailed what he found to be even more disturbing responses from the administration officials in the briefing, saying they would not acknowledge there’s any hypothetical military action that would require the administration to seek congressional approval in advance. Lee said the briefers would not even agree that an assassination of Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would require approval from lawmakers.
As the House of Representatives scheduled a vote Thursday to begin to limit Trump’s military aggression by voting on a war powers resolution — a measure unlikely to pass the GOP-controlled Senate despite Lee’s defection — many observers were lauding the Republican senator for breaking rank and daring to hold the Trump administration accountable for an action that’s been criticized as “short-sighted.”
“Mike Lee is woke,” actor Rob Reiner tweeted. “His outrage over being snowed about the justification for assassinating Soleimani then being told not to talk about it strikes at the heart of Trump’s presidency. Do something wildly irresponsible, lie about it, then try to cover it up. GOP join the Outrage.”
“Hey look, a Republican senator woke up from his Trump stupor for a second and *gasp* kinda agreed with me,” another wrote.
Former national security adviser Susan Rice also went after Trump this week after the real estate mogul-turned-politician suggested former President Barack Obama‘s administration had provided Iran with the funds used to launch a missile attack on U.S. troops in Iraq.
On Tuesday, the Iranian government responded to Soleimani’s killing by firing over a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops and coalition forces. No American personnel were hurt in the attack, officials later confirmed.
During an appearance on MSNBC, Rice refuted Trump’s claims that the Obama admin gave Iran $150 billion as part of the 2015 nuclear deal, explaining that the funds were actually Iranian long-frozen cash that was released as a result of the landmark agreement.
“This is another series of despicable lies by President Trump,” she said Wednesday on “Andrea Mitchell Reports.” “The fact that … three years after taking office he remains obsessed with President Obama just shows President Trump’s extreme weakness and insecurity.”
Watch more in the video below.