Pompeo faces questions about the 'imminent threat' that led to the strike on Iran's Soleimani

Hunter Walker
White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON — In a briefing with reporters on Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted that the U.S. government had “specific information” that Iran was planning an “imminent” attack on American facilities before President Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3. 

“We had specific information on an imminent threat, and those threats ... included attacks on U.S. embassies. Period. Full stop,” Pompeo said. 

Soleimani was one of the most powerful figures in the Iranian regime. He led the country’s Quds Force, which carried out military operations outside of Iran. His work included overseeing forces who have been responsible for the deaths of U.S. troops. The drone strike that killed Soleimani came after a group that included Iranian-backed militiamen attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad on Dec. 31. Iran retaliated for Soleimani’s death on Jan. 8 by launching missile strikes at military bases in Iraq that housed U.S. troops. 

Pompeo said other American facilities in the Middle East, including military bases, were also being targeted by Soleimani. 

Pompeo’s comments followed criticism from lawmakers, including some Republicans, that the Trump administration did not provide sufficient information about the justification for the strike in a classified briefing with members of the Senate on Wednesday. Those concerns have led some Republicans to support a push by Democrats to curb Trump’s power to order military action in Iran without congressional approval. 

During Friday’s briefing, Pompeo was asked how his claim that the threat was “imminent” squared with prior comments he made indicating that he did not know when the attacks allegedly being planned by Soleimani would take place.

“Those are completely consistent thoughts. I don’t know exactly which minute, we don’t know exactly which day it would have been executed, but it was very clear Qassem Soleimani himself was plotting a broad, large-scale attack against American interests, and those attacks were imminent,” Pompeo said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announcing new sanctions on Iran on Friday. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Pompeo’s comment that U.S. embassies were being targeted echoed statements President Trump made at a Thursday campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio. After Trump made that claim, multiple senators said that information was not included in the closed-door briefing the day before. Pompeo was asked about this discrepancy and whether the Trump administration had told senators multiple embassies were targeted.

“We did,” Pompeo said.

A reporter pressed him on whether the senators who said they didn’t receive this information were “lying.” 

“We told them about the imminent threat, all of the intelligence that we’ve briefed that you’ve heard today. I assure you,” Pompeo said.

He was also asked about the contradiction between the administration’s insistence that intelligence should be trusted and the myriad attacks Trump has launched against members of the intelligence community who investigated him in conjunction with former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. 

“We all challenge their work. We have to make sure we get it right,” Pompeo said. “The intelligence community is not flawless. We get it wrong. In this case, the intelligence community got it fundamentally right.”

Pompeo spoke to reporters along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The pair held the briefing to announce additional U.S. sanctions against Iran on Friday morning in response to the missile strikes against the bases in Iraq.

“The president has been very clear we will continue to apply economic sanctions until Iran stops its terrorist activities and commits that it will never have nuclear weapons,” Mnuchin said.  

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