Trump's Claim to Have Stopped Attacks With Soleimani Strike 'Is a Bit of a Stretch,' Former National Intelligence Director Says

James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence, has urged Americans to be skeptical of President Donald Trump's justification for the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, as the clamor grows for the White House to release intelligence supposedly supporting the need for the strike.

Speaking to CNN on Monday, Clapper also said that Trump was now relying on the same intelligence community that he has so often maligned for not supporting his partisan political strategies.

The White House has claimed that the president took the decision to kill Soleimani—the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' clandestine Quds Force and widely considered the second most powerful man in Iran—to stop imminent attacks that he was supposedly planning against Americans in the Middle East.

The administration has thus far failed to present evidence supporting its explanation for last week's drone strike, which killed both Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the commander of Iraq's Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Committee group of militias.

But Clapper was skeptical that killing Soleimani would stop attacks against Americans. The 62-year-old general was credited with formulating Iranian military strategy across the Middle East, building, arming and directing proxy forces to further Tehran's interests.

These include some Shiite militias in Iraq, which the Pentagon says killed more than 600 American troops during the U.S. occupation of the country.

"Soleimani himself didn't plant IEDs," Clapper told CNN. "He didn't himself launch rocket attacks against American personnel or facilities. So to me it is a bit of a stretch that by doing this they thwarted an imminent attack, because attacks are carried out—typically under Soleimani—by proxies, that is Shia militias in Iraq. So that's hard to believe."

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has already appointed Soleimani's successor—Esmail Ghaani, who had served as his predecessor's deputy for more than two decades. Khamenei said the Quds Force strategy would not change, and Ghaani had already vowed to avenge his former boss.

Clapper—who served under President Barack Obama and was accused of perjury in 2013 after denying that the National Security Agency was collecting telephone metadata on millions of Americans—suggested Americans should question the administration's explanation.

He reminded viewers of the intelligence failures that facilitated the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which unleashed chaos across the Middle East still being felt today.

"There is a little bit history that people should remember, about 17 years ago when the administration then made assurances about intelligence pertaining to Iraq, which of course was the occasion for an invasion," Clapper said. "Skepticism is in order here."

More generally, Clapper said the current debate over the Soleimani intelligence represents "a credibility issue." The administration and its allies are asking Americans to trust the intelligence that supposedly justified the strike, which National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien has described as "very solid."

"The president has spent the last three years discrediting the very intelligence community that produced this intelligence," Clapper explained. "The discrediting of the intelligence community is going to come back to haunt and this may be a case in point."

"If it has to do with Russian meddling or the determination of North Korea not to denuclearize—which turned out to be correct—that's intelligence we don't like," Clapper added. "But if we have intelligence we do like that supports our position, well then it's OK. So I think, again, a bit of a credibility challenge here for the administration."

Qassem Soleimani, Donald Trump, James Clapper, intelligence
This file photo shows people holding posters of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani during a protest outside the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on January 5, 2020. Chris McGrath/Getty Images/Getty