In recent days, the Trump administration has struggled to put together a defense for why they chose to assassinate Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani earlier this month, a man many deem to have been the second-highest-ranking official in that nation.
Recent justifications for the assassination have included suggestions by the administration, as well as directly from President Donald Trump himself, that Soleimani was planning to bomb four American embassies in the region. How Soleimani’s death would put an end to that plot has not been articulated by White House officials.
“I can reveal that I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies,” Trump told Fox News host Laura Ingraham last week, according to a report from the Washington Post.
However, on Sunday, while speaking on CBS News’ Face the Nation, Trump’s own Defense Secretary Mark Esper put into doubt the argument that embassies were being threatened by Soleimani. When asked if he could elaborate on the justification to kill the Iranian leader on that basis, Esper said he didn’t see the evidence himself.
On justifications related to imminent attacks, Esper said, “I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies,” according to the New York Times.
Esper did try to defend the rationale still, however, in additional comments on the show.
What is the U.S. assessment of what's going on in the ground? @EsperDoD says "We are safer today than we were just a few weeks ago" after Iranian military leader Qassem Soleimani's death. pic.twitter.com/fJLPun4bGP
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) January 12, 2020
“My expectation was they were going to go after our embassies,” he said. He added, “We are safer today than we were just a few weeks ago” before Soleimani was killed.
Further compounding the “embassy explanation” by the administration is the fact that the supposed threats weren’t passed on to embassy officials. The American embassy in Iraq, for example, was not given any warning about an imminent threat, from Soleimani or any other potential attacker, according to a person familiar with the matter, the Washington Post reported.